The Phenomenology of Mind

C: Free Concrete Mind: (BB) Spirit

B: The Spirit in Self-Estrangement
III. Absolute Freedom & Terror (1)

Φ 582. CONSCIOUSNESS has found its notion in the principle of utility. But that notion is partly an object still, partly, for that very reason, still a purpose, of which consciousness does not yet find itself to be immediately possessed. Utility is still a predicate of the object, not a subject, not its immediate and sole actuality. It is the same thing that appeared before when we found that self-existence (being-for-self) had not yet shown itself to be the substance of the remaining moments, a process by which the useful would be directly nothing else than the self of consciousness and this latter thereby in its possession.

This revocation of the form of objectivity which characterizes the useful has, however, already taken effect implicitly, and as the outcome of this immanent internal revolution there comes to light the actual revolution of concrete actuality, the new mode of conscious life-absolute freedom.

Φ 583. This is so because in point of fact there is here no more than an empty semblance of objectivity separating self-consciousness from actual possession. For, in part, all the validity and permanence of the various specific members of the organization of the world of actuality and belief have as a whole returned into this simple determination, as into their ground and their indwelling spirit: in part, however, this organized world has nothing peculiarly its own left for itself, it is instead pure metaphysics pure notion or knowledge of self-consciousness. That is to say, from the whole and complete being of the useful qua object consciousness recognizes that its inherent nature, its being-in-itself, is essentially a being for another; mere being-in-itself since it is self-less, is ultimately and in truth a passive entity, or something that is for another self. The object, however, is present to consciousness in this abstract form of purely inherent being, of pure being-in-itself; for consciousness is the activity of pure insight, the separate moments of which take the pure form of notions.

Self-existence, being-for-self, however, into which being for another returns, in other words the self, is not a self of what is called object, a self all its own and different from the ego: for consciousness qua pure insight is not an individual self, over against which the object, in the sense of having a self all its own, could stand, but the pure notion, the gazing of the self into self, the literal and absolute seeing itself doubled. The certainty of itself is the universal subject, and its notion knowing itself is the essential being of all reality. If the useful was merely the shifting change of the moments, without returning into its own proper unity, and was still hence an object for knowledge to deal with, then it ceases to be this now. For knowing is itself the process and movement of those abstract moments; it is the universal self, the self of itself as well as of the object, and, being universal, is the unity of this process, a unity that returns into itself.

Φ 584. This brings on the scene spirit in the form of absolute freedom. It is the mode of self-consciousness which clearly comprehends that in its certainty of self lies the essence of all the component spiritual spheres of the concrete sensible as well as of the supersensible world, or, conversely, that essential being and concrete actuality consist in the knowledge consciousness has of itself.

It is conscious of its pure personality and with that of all spiritual reality; and all reality is solely spirituality; the world is for it absolutely its own will, and this will is universal will. And further, this will is not the empty thought of will, which is constituted by giving a silent assent, or an assent through a representative, a mere symbol of willing; it is concretely embodied universal will, the will of all individuals as such. For will is in itself the consciousness of personality, of every single one; and it has to be as this true concrete actual as self-conscious essential being of each and every personality, so that each single and undivided does everything, and what appears as done by the whole is at once and consciously the deed of every single individual.

Φ 585. This undivided substance of absolute freedom puts itself on the throne of the world, without any power being able to offer effectual resistance. For since in very truth consciousness is alone the element which furnishes spiritual beings or powers with their substance, their entire system, which is organized and maintained through division into separate spheres and distinct wholes, has collapsed into a single whole, when once the individual consciousness conceives the object as having no other nature than that of self-consciousness itself, or conceives it to be absolutely the notion. What made the notion an existential object was the distinguishing it into separate and separately subsisting spheres; when, however, the object becomes a notion there is nothing fixedly subsisting left in it; negativity has pervaded all its moments. It exists in such a way that each individual consciousness rises out of the sphere assigned to it, finds no longer its inmost nature and function in this isolated area, but grasps itself as the notion of will, grasps all the various spheres as the essential expression of this will, and is in consequence only able to realize itself in a work which is a work of the whole. In this absolute freedom all social ranks or classes, which are the component spiritual factors into which the whole is differentiated, are effaced and annulled; the individual consciousness that belonged to any such group and exercised its will and found its fulfilment there, has removed the barriers confining it; its purpose is the universal purpose, its language universal law, its work universal achievement.

Φ 586. The object and the element distinguished have here lost the meaning of utility, which was a predicate of all real being; consciousness does not commence its process with the object as a sort of alien element after dealing with which it then and only then returns into itself ; the object is for it consciousness itself. The opposition thus consists solely in the distinction of individual and universal consciousness. But the individual itself is directly on its own view that which had merely the semblance of opposition; it is universal consciousness and will. The remote beyond that lies remote from this its actual reality, hovers over the corpse of the vanished independence of what is real or believed to be, and hovers there merely as an exhalation of stale gas, of the empty être suprême.

Φ 587. By doing, away with the various distinct spiritual spheres, and the restricted and confined life of individuals, as well as both its worlds, there thus remains merely the process of the universal self-consciousness within itself — a process which consists in a reciprocal interaction between its universal form and personal consciousness. The universal will goes into itself, is subjectivized, and becomes individual will, to which the universal law and universal work stand opposed. But this individual consciousness is equally and immediately conscious of itself as universal will; it is fully aware that its object is a law given by that will, a work performed by that will; in exercising and carrying out its activity, in creating objectivity, it is thus doing nothing individual, but executing laws and functions of the state.

Φ 588. This process is consequently the interaction of consciousness with itself, in which it lets nothing break away and assume the shape of a detached object standing over against it. It follows from this, that it cannot arrive at a positive accomplishment of anything, either in the way of universal works of language or of those of actual reality, either in the shape of laws and universal regulations of conscious freedom, or of deeds and works of active freedom.

The accomplished result at which this freedom, that gives itself consciousness, might manage to arrive, would consist in the fact that such freedom qua universal substance made itself into an object and an abiding existence. This objective otherness would there be the differentiation which enabled it to divide itself into stable spiritual spheres and into the members of distinct powers. These spheres would partly be the thought-constituted factors of a power that is differentiated into legislative, judicial and executive; but partly they would be the substantial elements we found in the real world of spiritual culture; and, since the content of universal action would be more closely taken note of, they would be the particular spheres of labour, which are further distinguished as more specific “estates” or social ranks. Universal freedom, which would have differentiated itself in this manner into its various parts, and by the very fact of doing so would have made itself an existing substance, would thereby be free from particular individualities, and could apportion the plurality of individuals to its several organic parts.

The activity and being of personality would, however, find itself by this process confined to a branch of the whole, to one kind of action and existence; when placed in the element of existence, personality would bear the meaning of a determinate personality; it would cease to be in reality universal self-consciousness. Neither by the idea of submission to self-imposed laws, which would assign to it only a part of the whole work, nor by its being represented when legislation and universal action take place, does self-consciousness here let itself be cheated out of the actual reality — the fact that itself lays down the law and itself accomplishes a universal and not a particular task. For in the case where the self is merely represented and ideally presented (vorgestellt), there it is not actual: where it is by proxy, it is not.(2)

Φ 589. Just as the individual self-consciousness does not find itself in this universal work of absolute freedom qua existing substance, as little does it find itself in the deeds proper, and specific individual acts of will, performed by this substance. For the universal to pass into a deed, it must gather itself into the single unity of individuality, and put an individual consciousness in the forefront; for universal will is an actual concrete will only in a self that is single and one. Thereby, however, all other individuals are excluded from the entirety of this deed, and have only a restricted share in it, so that the deed would not be a deed of real universal self-consciousness.

Universal freedom can thus produce neither a positive achievement nor a deed; there is left for it only negative action; it is merely the rage and fury of destruction.

Φ 590. But the highest reality of all and the reality most of all opposed to absolute freedom, or rather the sole object it is yet to become aware of, is the freedom and singleness of actual self-consciousness itself. For that universality which does not let itself attain the reality of organic articulation, and whose purpose is to maintain itself in unbroken continuity, distinguishes itself within itself all the while, because it is process or consciousness in general. Moreover, on account of its own peculiar abstraction, it divides itself into extremes equally abstract, into the cold unbending bare universality, and the hard discrete absolute rigidity and stubborn atomic singleness of actual self-consciousness. Now that it is done with destroying the organization of the actual world, and subsists in isolated singleness, this is its sole object, an object that has no other content left, no other possession, existence and external extension, but is merely this knowledge of itself as absolutely pure and free individual self. The point at which this object can be laid hold of is solely its abstract existence in general.

The relation, then, of these two, since they exist for themselves indivisibly and absolutely and thus cannot arrange for a common part to act as a means for connecting them, is pure negation entirely devoid of mediation, the negation, moreover, of the individual as a factor existing within the universal. The sole and only work and deed accomplished by universal freedom is therefore death — a death that achieves nothing, embraces nothing within its grasp; for what is negated is the unachieved, unfulfilled punctual entity of the absolutely free self. It is thus the most cold-blooded and meaningless death of all, with no more significance than cleaving a head of cabbage or swallowing a draught of water.

Φ 591. In this single expressionless syllable consists the wisdom of the government, the intelligence of the universal will; this is how it fulfils itself. The government is itself nothing but the self-established focus, the individual embodiment of the universal will. Government, a power to will and perform proceeding from a single focus, wills and performs at the same time a determinate order and action. In doing so it, on the one hand, excludes other individuals from a share in its deed, and, on the other, thereby constitutes itself a form of government which is a specifically determinate will and eo ipso opposed to the universal will. By no manner of means, therefore, can it exhibit itself as anything but a faction. The victorious faction only is called the government; and just in that it is a faction lies the direct necessity of its overthrow; and its being government makes it, conversely, into a faction and hence guilty. When the universal will fastens on this concrete action of the government and treats this as the crime which the government has committed against the universal will, then the government on its side has nothing tangible and external left whereby to establish and show the guilt of the will opposing itself to it; for what thus stands opposed to it as concrete actual universal will is merely unreal pure will, mere intention. Being suspected, therefore, takes the place, or has the significance and effect, of being guilty; and the external reaction against this reality that lies in bare inward intention, consists in the and barren destruction of this particular existent self, in whose case there is nothing else to take away but its mere existence.

Φ 592. In this its characteristically peculiar performance, absolute freedom becomes objective to itself, and self-consciousness finds out what this freedom is. In itself it is just this abstract self-consciousness, which destroys all distinction and all subsistence of distinction within itself. It is object to itself in this shape; the terror of death is the direct apprehension (Anschauung) of this its negative nature. This its reality, however, absolute free self-consciousness finds quite different from what its own notion of itself was, viz. that the universal will is merely the positive substance of personality, and that this latter knows itself in it only positively, knows itself preserved there. Rather for this self -consciousness, which qua pure insight completely separates its positive and negative nature — separates the unpredicated Absolute qua pure thought and qua pure matter — the absolute transition of the one into the other is found here present in its reality. The universal will, qua absolutely positive concrete self-consciousness — because it is this self-conscious actuality raised to the level of pure thought or abstract matter — turns round into the negative entity, and shows itself at the same time to be what cancels and does away with self-thinking or self-consciousness.

Φ 593. Absolute freedom qua pure self-identity of universal will thus carries with it negation; but in doing so contains distinction in general, and develops this again as concrete actual difference. For pure negativity finds in the self-identical universal will the element of subsistence, or the substance in which its moments get their realization; it has the matter which it can convert into the specific nature of its own being; and in so far as this substance has manifested itself to be the negative element for the individual consciousness, the organization of the spiritual spheres or “masses” of the substance, to which the plurality of conscious individuals is assigned, thus takes shape and form once more. These individuals, who felt the fear of death, their absolute lord and master, submit to negation and distinction once more, arrange themselves under the “spheres”, and return to a restricted. and apportioned task, but thereby to their substantial reality.

Φ 594. Out of this tumult spirit would be, hurled back upon its starting point, the ethical world and the real world of spiritual culture, which would thus have been merely refreshed and rejuvenated by the fear of the lord, that has again entered men's hearts. Spirit would have anew to traverse and continually repeat this cycle of necessity, if only complete interpenetration of self-consciousness and the substance were the final result: an interpenetration in which self-consciousness, which has experienced the force of its universal nature operating negatively upon it, would try to know and find itself not as this particular self-consciousness but only as universal, and hence, too, would be able to endure the objective reality of universal spirit, a reality, excluding self-consciousness qua particular.

But this is not the form the final result assumed. For in absolute freedom there was no reciprocal interaction either between an external world and consciousness, which is absorbed in manifold existence or sets itself determinate purposes and ideas, or between consciousness and an external objective world, be it a world of reality or of thought. What that freedom contained was the world absolutely in the form of consciousness, as a universal will, and, along with that, self-consciousness gathered out of all the dispersion and manifoldness of existence or all the manifold ends and judgments of mind, and concentrated into the bare and simple self. The form of culture, which it attains in interaction with that essential nature, is, therefore, the grandest and the last, is that of seeing its pure and simple reality immediately disappear and pass away into empty nothingness.(3) In the sphere of culture itself it does not get the length of viewing its negation or alienation in this form of pure abstraction; its negation is negation with a filling and a content-either honour and wealth, which it gains in the place of the self that it has alienated from itself; or the language of esprit and insight, which the distraught consciousness acquires; or, again, the negation is the heaven of belief or the principle of utility belonging to the stage of enlightenment. All these determinate elements disappear with the disaster and ruin that overtake the self in the state of absolute freedom;(4) its negation is meaningless death, sheer horror of the negative which has nothing positive in it, nothing that gives a filling.

At the same time, however, this negation in its actual manifestation is not something alien and external. It is neither that universal background of necessity in which the moral world is swamped, nor the particular accident of private possession, the whims and humours of the owner, on which the distraught consciousness finds itself dependent; it is universal will, which in this its last abstraction has nothing positive, and hence can give nothing in return for the sacrifice. But just on that account this will is in unmediated oneness with self-consciousness, it is the pure positive because it is the pure negative; and that meaningless death, the unfilled, vacuous negativity of self, in its inner constitutive principle, turns round into absolute positivity. For consciousness, the immediate unity of itself with universal will, its demand to know itself as this particular determinate centre in the universal will, is changed and converted into the absolutely opposite experience. What it loses there, is abstract being, the immediate existence of that insubstantial centre; and this vanished immediacy is the universal will as such which it now knows itself to be, so far as it is superseded and cancelled immediacy, so far as it is pure knowledge or pure will. By this means it knows that will to be itself, and knows itself to be essential reality; but not as the immediate essence, not will as revolutionary government or anarchy struggling to establish an anarchical constitution, nor itself as a centre of this faction or the opposite; the universal will is its pure knowing and willing, and it is universal will qua this pure knowledge and volition. It does not lose itself there, for pure knowledge and volition is it far more than that atomic point of consciousness. It is thus the interaction of pure knowledge with itself; pure knowledge qua essential reality is universal will, while this essence is simply and solely pure knowledge. Self-consciousness is thus pure knowledge of essential reality in the sense of pure knowledge. Furthermore, qua single self it is merely the form of the subject or concrete real action, a form which by it is known as form. In the same way objective reality, “being”, is for it absolutely self-less form; for that objective reality would be what is not known: this knowledge, however, knows knowledge to be the essential fact.

Φ 595. Absolute freedom has thus squared and balanced the self-opposition of universal and single will. The self-alienated type of mind, driven to the acme of its opposition, where pure volition and the purely volitional agent are still kept distinct, reduces that opposition to a transparent form, and therein finds itself

Just as the realm of the real and actual world passes over into that of belief and insight, absolute freedom leaves its self-destructive sphere of reality, and passes over into another land of self-conscious spirit, where in this unreality freedom is taken to be and is accepted as the truth. In the thought of this truth spirit refreshes and revives itself (so far as spirit is thought and remains so), and knows this being which self-consciousness involves [viz. Thought] to be the complete and entire essence of everything. The new form and mode of experience that now arises is that of the Moral Life of Spirit.


1. Refers primarily to the régime under the French revolutionaries.

2. The essential principle of anarchy.

3. Kant's “thing in itself"?

4. In the sense of abstract autonomy.