The Phenomenology of Mind

C: Free Concrete Mind: (BB) Spirit

C: Morality
b. Dissemblance (1)

Φ 616. IN the moral attitude of experience we see, on one side, consciousness itself produce its object in a conscious way. We find that neither does it pick up the object as something external, nor does the object come before it in an unconscious manner. Rather, consciousness throughout proceeds on an explicit ground, and from this establishes the objective reality. It thus knows this objective reality to be itself, for it is aware of itself as the active agent producing this object. It seems, in consequence, to attain here its peace and satisfaction, for this can only be found where it does not need to go any more beyond its object, because this object no longer goes beyond it. On the other side, however, it really puts the object away outside itself, as something beyond itself. But this latter self-contained entity is at the same time put there as something that is not, free from self-consciousness, but really there on behalf of and by means of it.

(1) The Contradictions in the Moral View of the World

Φ 617. The moral attitude is, therefore, in fact nothing else than the developed expression of this fundamental contradiction in its various aspects. It is — to use a Kantian phrase which is here most appropriated “perfect nest” of thoughtless contradictions.(2) Consciousness, in developing this situation, proceeds by fixing definitely one moment, passing thence immediately over to another and doing away with the first. But, as soon as it has now set up this second moment, it also “shifts” (verstellt) this again, and really makes the opposite the essential element. At the same time, it is conscious of its contradiction and of its shuffling, for it passes from one moment, immediately in its relation to this very moment, right over to the opposite. Because a moment has for it no reality at all, it affirms that very moment as real: or, what comes to the same thing, in order to assert one moment as per se existent, it asserts the opposite as the per se, existent. It thereby confesses that, as a matter of fact, it is in earnest about neither of them. The various moments of this vertiginous fraudulent process we must look at more closely.

Φ 618. Let us, to begin with, agree to accept the assumption that there is an actual moral consciousness, because the assumption is made directly and not with reference to something preceding; and let us turn to the harmony of morality and nature — the first postulate. It is to be immanent, not explicitly for actual conscious life, not really present; the present is rather simply the contradiction between the two. In the present, morality is taken to be something at hand, and actual reality to be so situated or “placed” that it is not in harmony with morality. The concrete moral consciousness, however, is an active one; that is precisely what constitutes the actuality of its morality. In the very process of acting, however, that “Place” or semblance is immediately “displaced”, is dissembled; for action is nothing else than the actualization of the inner moral purpose, nothing but the production of an actuality constituted and determined by the purpose; in other words, the production of the harmony of moral purpose and reality itself. At the same time the performance of the action is a conscious fact, it is the “presence” of this unity of reality and purpose; and because in the completed act consciousness realizes itself as a given individual consciousness, or sees existence returned into itself — and in this consists the nature of enjoyment — there is, eo ipso, contained in the realization of moral purpose also that form of its realization which is called enjoyment and happiness.

Action thus, as a fact, fulfils directly what it was assorted could not take place at all, fulfils what was to be merely a postulate, was to lie merely “beyond”. Consciousness, therefore, expresses through its deed that it is not in earnest in making the postulate, since the meaning of acting is really that it makes a present fact of what was not to be in the present. And, since the harmony is postulated for the sake of the action — for what is to become actual through action must be implicit, otherwise the actuality would not be possible — the connexion of action with the postulate is so constituted that, for the sake of the action, i.e. for the sake of the actual harmony of purpose and reality, this harmony is put forward as not actual, as far away, as “beyond”.

Φ 619. In that action takes place, the want of adaptation between purpose and reality is thus not taken seriously at all. Action itself, on the other hand, does seem to be taken seriously. But, as a matter of fact, the actual deed done is only the action of an individual consciousness, and so is itself merely something individual, and the result contingent. The end of reason, however, being the all-comprehensive universal end, is nothing short of the entire world — a final purpose which goes far beyond the content of this individual act, and therefore is to be placed altogether beyond anything actually done. Because the universal best ought to be carried out, nothing good is done. In point of fact, however, the nothingness of actual action and the reality of the entire purpose alone, which are here upheld — these are on all hands again “shifted” or dissembled. The moral act is not something contingent and restricted; its essential nature lies in pure duty. This pure duty constitutes the sole entire purpose; and the act, whatever may be the limitation of the content, being the actualization of that purpose, is the accomplishment of the entire absolute purpose. Or, if again we take the reality in the sense of nature, which has laws of its own and stands over against pure duty, and take it in such a way that duty cannot realize its law within nature, then, since duty as such is the essential element, we are, when acting, not in fact concerned about the accomplishment of pure duty which is the whole purpose; for the accomplishment would then rather have as its end not pure duty, but the opposite, viz. reality. But there is again a “shifting” from the position that it is not reality with which we have to do. For by the very notion of moral action, pure duty is essentially an active consciousness. Action thus ought certainly to take place, absolute duty ought to be expressed in the whole of nature, and “moral law” to become “natural law”.

Φ 620. If, then, we allow this highest good to stand for the essentially real, consciousness is altogether not in earnest with morality. For, in this highest good, nature has not a different law from what morality has. Moral action itself, in consequence, drops, for action takes place only under the assumption of a negative element which is to be cancelled by means of the act. But if nature conforms to the moral law, then assuredly this moral law would be violated by acting, by cancelling what already exists.

On that mode of interpretation, then, there has been admitted as the essential situation one which renders moral action superfluous and in which moral action does not take place at all. Hence the postulate of the harmony between morality and reality — a harmony posited by the very notion of moral action, which means bringing the two into agreement — finds on this view, too, an expression which takes the form: — “because moral action is the absolute purpose, the absolute purpose is — that moral action do not take place at all”.

Φ 621. If we put these moments together, through which consciousness has moved in presenting its ideas of its moral life, we see that it cancels each one again in its opposite. It starts from the position that, for it, morality and reality do not make a harmony; but it is not in earnest with that, for in the moral act it is conscious of the presence of this harmony. But neither is it in earnest with this action, since the action is something individual; for it has such a high purpose, the highest good. This, however, is once more merely a dissemblance of the actual fact, for thereby all action and all morality would fall to the ground. In other words, it is not strictly in earnest with moral action; on the contrary, it really feels that, what is most to be wished for, the absolutely desirable, is that the highest good were carried out and moral action superfluous.

Φ 622. From this result consciousness must go on still further in its contradictory process, and must of necessity again dissemble the abolition of moral action. Morality is the inherently essential (Ansich); in order that it may have place, the final end of the world cannot be carried out; rather, the moral consciousness must exist for itself, and must find lying before it a nature opposing it. But it must per se, be completed. This leads to the second postulate of the harmony of itself and sensibility, the “nature” immediately within it. Moral self-consciousness sets up its purpose as pure purpose, as independent of inclinations and impulses, so that this bare purpose has abolished within itself the ends of sensibility. But this cancelling of the element of sense is no sooner set up than it is again dissembled. The moral consciousness acts, it brings its purpose into reality; and self-conscious sensibility, which should be done away with, is precisely the mediating element between pure consciousness and reality — is the instrument used by the former for the realization of itself, or is the organ, and what is called impulse, inclinations. It is thus not really in earnest in cancelling inclinations and impulses, for these are just self-consciousness making itself actual. Moreover, they ought not to be suppressed, but merely to be in conformity with reason. They are, too, in conformity with it; for moral action is nothing else than self-realizing consciousness — consciousness taking on the form of an impulse, i.e. it is immediately the realized actually present harmony of impulse and morality. But, in point of fact, impulse is not only this empty conscious form, which might possibly have within itself a spring of action other than the impulse in question, and be driven on by that. For sensibility is a kind of nature, which contains within itself its own laws and springs of action: consequently, morality cannot seriously mean to be the inciting motive (Triebfeder) for impulses (Triebe), the angle of inclination for inclinations. For, since these latter have their own fixed character and peculiar content, the consciousness, to which they were to conform, would rather be in conformity with them — a conformity which moral self-consciousness declines to adopt. The harmony between the two is thus merely implicit and postulated.

In moral action the realized or present harmony of morality and sensibility was set up just now, and is now again “displaced”. The harmony is in a misty distance beyond consciousness, where nothing can any more be accurately distinguished or grasped; for, to grasp this unity, which we have just tried to do, has proved impossible.

In this merely immanent or implicit harmony, however, consciousness gives up itself altogether. This immanent state is its moral completion, where the struggle of morality and sensibility has ceased, and the latter is in conformity to the former in a way which cannot be made out. On that account this completion is again merely a dissemblance of the actual case; for in point of fact morality would be really giving up itself in that completion, because it is only consciousness of the absolute purpose qua pure purpose, i.e. in opposition to all other purposes. Morality is both the activity of this pure purpose, and at the same time the consciousness of rising above sensibility, of being mixed up with sensibility and of opposing and struggling with it. That this moral completion is not taken seriously is directly expressed by consciousness itself in the fact that it shifts this completion away into infinity, i.e. asserts that the completion is never completed.

Φ 623. Thus it is really only the middle state of being incomplete that is admitted to have any value: a state nevertheless which at least is supposed to be one of progress towards completion. Yet it cannot be so; for advancing in morality would really mean approaching its disappearance. For the goal would be the nothingness above mentioned, the abolition of morality and consciousness itself: but to come ever nearer and nearer to nothing means to decrease. Besides, “advancing” would, in general, in the same way as “decreasing,” assume distinctions of quantity in morality: but these are quite inadmissible in such a sphere. In morality as the consciousness which takes the ethical end to be pure duty, we cannot think at all of difference, least of all of the superficial difference of quantity: there is only one virtue, only one pure duty, only one morality.

Φ 624. Since, then, it is not moral completion that is taken seriously, but rather the middle state, i.e. as just explained, the condition of no morality, we thus come by another way back to the content of the first postulate. For we cannot perceive how happiness is to be demanded for this moral consciousness on the ground of its worthiness to be happy. It is well aware of its not being complete, and cannot, therefore, in point of fact, demand happiness as a desert, as something of which it is worthy. It can ask happiness to be given merely as an act of free grace, i.e. it can only ask for happiness as such and as a substantive element by itself; it cannot expect it except as the result of chance and caprice, not because there is any absolute reason of the above sort. The condition of non-morality herein expresses just what it is — that it is concerned, not about morality, but about happiness alone, without reference to morality.

Φ 625. By this second aspect of the moral point of view, the assertion of the first aspect, wherein disharmony between morality and happiness is presupposed, is also cancelled. One may pretend to have found by experience that in the actual present the man who is moral often fares badly, while the man who is not, often comes off happily. Yet the middle state of incomplete morality, the condition which has proved to be the essential one, shows clearly that this perception that morality fares badly, this supposed experience of it, is merely a dissemblance of the real facts of the case. For, since morality is not completed, i.e. since morality in point of fact is not, what can there be in the “experience” that morality fares badly?

Since, at the same time, it has turned out that the point at issue concerns happiness alone, it is manifest that, in making the criticism, “the man without morality comes off well,” there was no intention to convey thereby that there is something wrong in such a case.. The designation of an individual as one devoid of morality necessarily falls to the ground, when morality in general is incomplete; such a characterization rests, indeed, on pure caprice. Hence the sense and content of that judgment of experience is simply this, that happiness as such should not have fallen to some who have got it, i.e. the judgment is an expression of envy, which covers itself up in the cloak of morality. The reason, however, why we think good luck, as we call it, should fall to the lot of others is good friendship, which ungrudgingly grants and wishes them, and wishes itself too, this favour, this accident of good fortune.

(2) The Resolution of Morality into its Opposite

Φ 626. Morality, then, in the moral consciousness, is not completed. This is what is now established. But its essence consists in being only what is complete, and so pure morality: incomplete morality is, therefore, impure in other words, is Immorality. Morality itself thus exists in another being than the actual concrete consciousness. This other is a holy moral legislator.

Morality which is not completed in consciousness the morality which is the reason for making those postulates, means, in the first instance, that morality, when it is set up as actual in consciousness, stands in relation to something else, to an existence, and thus itself acquires otherness or distinction, whence arises a manifold plurality of moral commands. The moral self-consciousness at the same time, however, looks on these many duties as unessential; for it is concerned with merely the one pure duty, and this plurality of duties, so far as they are determinate duties, has no true reality for self-consciousness. They can thus have their real truth only in another consciousness, and are (what they are not for the actual moral self-consciousness) sacred through a holy law-giver.

But this, too, is again merely a dissembling of the actual fact. For moral self-consciousness is to itself the absolute, and duty is simply and solely what it knows to be duty. It, however, knows only pure duty as duty: what is not sacred in its view is not per se sacred at all, and what is not per se, sacred cannot be rendered so by the being that is sacred. Moral consciousness, further, is not really serious in allowing something to be made sacred by another consciousness than its own. For, only that is without qualification sacred in its eyes which is made sacred through its own action, and is sacred within it. It is thus just as little in earnest in treating this other being as a holy being; for this would mean that, within that holy being something was to attain an essential significance, which, for the moral consciousness, i.e. in itself, has none.

Φ 627. If the sacred being was postulated, in order that duty might have binding validity within the moral consciousness, not qua pure duty, but as a plurality of specific duties, then this must again be dissembled and this other being must be solely sacred in so far as only pure duty has binding validity within it. Pure duty has also, in point of fact, binding validity only in another being, not in the moral consciousness. Although, within the latter, pure morality seems alone to hold good, still this must be put in another form, for it is, at the same time, a natural consciousness. Morality is, in it, affected and conditioned by sensibility, and thus is not something substantial, but a contingent result of free will; in it, however, qua pure will, morality is a contingency of knowledge. Taken by itself, therefore, morality is in another being, is self-complete only in another reality than the actual moral consciousness.

Φ 628. This other being, then, is here absolutely complete morality, because in it morality does not stand in relation to nature and sensibility. Yet the reality of pure duty is its actualization in nature and sensibility. The moral consciousness accounts for its incompleteness by the fact that morality, in its case, has a positive relation to nature and sensibility, since it holds that an essential moment of morality is that morality should have simply and solely a negative relation towards nature and sensibility. The pure moral being, on the other hand, because far above the struggle with nature and sense, does not stand in a negative relation to them. Thus, in point of fact, the positive relation to them alone remains in its case, i.e. there remains just what a moment ago passed for the incomplete, for what was not moral. Pure morality, however, entirely cut off from actual reality so as likewise to be even without positive relation to reality, would be an unconscious unreal abstraction, where the very notion of morality, which consists in thinking of pure duty and in willing and doing, would be absolutely done away with. This other being, so purely and entirely moral, is again, therefore, mere dissemblance of the actual fact, and has to be given up.

Φ 629. In this purely moral being, however, the moments of the contradiction, in which this synthetic imaginative process is carried on, come closer together. So, likewise, do the opposites taken up alternately, now this and also that, and also the other, opposites which are allowed to follow one after the other, the one being constantly supplanted by the other, without these ideas being brought together. So close do they come, that consciousness here has to give up its moral view of the world and retreat within itself.

Φ 630. It knows its morality as incomplete because it is affected by an opposing sensibility and nature, which partly perturb morality as such, and partly give rise to a plurality of duties, by which, in concrete cases of real action, consciousness finds itself embarrassed. For each case is the concrete focus of many moral relations, just as an object of perception in general is a thing with many qualities. And since the determinate duty is its purpose, it has a content; its content is a part of the purpose, and so morality is not pure morality. This latter, then, has its real existence in some other being. But such reality means nothing else than that morality is here self-complete, in itself and for itself--for itself, i.e. is morality of a consciousness: in itself, i.e. has existence and actuality.

In that first incomplete consciousness, morality is not realized and carried out. It is there something immanent and implicit, in the sense of a mere thought-entity; for it is associated with nature and sensibility, with the actuality of [external] existence and conscious life, which constitutes its content; and nature and sensibility are morally nothing. In the second, morality is present as completed, and not in the form of an unrealized thought-element. But this completion consists just in the fact that morality has reality in a consciousness, as well as free reality, objective existence in general, is not something empty, but filled out, full of content. That is to say, the completion of morality is placed in this, that what a moment ago was characterized as morally nothing is found present in morality and inherent in it. It is at one time to have validity simply and solely as the unrealized thought-element, a product of pure abstraction; but, on the other hand, is just as certainly to have in this form no validity at all: its true nature is to consist in being opposed to reality, detached altogether therefrom, and empty, and then again to consist in being actual reality.

(3) The Truth of Moral Self-Consciousness

Φ 631. The syncretism, or fusion, of these contradictions, which is expressed in extenso in the moral attitude of experience, collapses internally, since the distinction on which it rests — ,viz. the conception of something which must be thought and posited as necessary, and is yet at the same time not essential — passes into one which does not any longer exist even in words. What, at the end, is affirmed to be something with different aspects, both to be nothing and also real, is one and the very same — existence and reality. And what is to be absolute only as something beyond actual existence and actual consciousness, and at the same time to be only in consciousness and so, qua beyond, nothing at all — this absolute is pure duty and the knowledge that pure duty is the essentially real. The consciousness, which makes this distinction that is no distinction, which announces actuality to be at once what is nothing and what is real, pronounces pure morality to be both the ultimate truth and also to be devoid of all true reality — such a consciousness expresses together in one and the same breath ideas which it formerly separated, and itself proclaims that it is not in earnest with this characterization and separation of the moments of self and inherent reality. It shows, on the contrary, that, what it announces as absolute existence apart from consciousness, it really keeps enclosed within the self of self-consciousness; and that, what it gives out as the absolute object of thought or absolutely inherent and implicit, it just for that reason takes to be something which has no truth at all.

It becomes clear to consciousness that placing these moments apart from each other is “dis-placing” them, is a dissemblance, and it would be hypocrisy were it really to keep to this. But, being pure moral self-consciousness, it flees from this discordance between its way of imagining and what constitutes its essential nature, flees from this untruth, which gives out as true what it holds to be untrue, and, turning away with abhorrence, it hastens back into itself. The consciousness, which scorns such a moral idea of the world, is pure Conscience (Gewissen): it is, in its inmost being, simply spirit consciously assured or “certain” (gewiss) of itself, spirit which acts directly in the light of this assurance, which acts conscientiously (gewissenhaft), without the intervention of those ideas, and finds its true nature in this direct immediacy.

While, however, this sphere of dissemblance is nothing else than the development of moral self-consciousness in its various moments and is consequently its reality, so too this self-consciousness, by returning into itself, will become, in its inmost nature, nothing else. This returning into itself, indeed, simply means that it has come to be conscious that its truth is a pretended truth, a mere pretence. As returning into itself it would have to be always giving out this pretended truth as its real truth, for it would have to express and display itself as an objective idea; but it would know all the same that this is merely a dissemblance. It would consequently be, in point of fact, hypocrisy, and its abhorrence of such dissemblance would be itself the first expression of hypocrisy.


1. Verstellung: It is not possible to bring out exactly by an English word the verbal play involved in Hegel's interpretation of the state of mind here discussed. Hegel has, in the course of his analysis, used the meaning implied in the general term “stellen” to explain by contrast the specific nuance of the purely moral attitude conveyed by the term verstellen.

2. An expression used by Kant of the “cosmological proof”.