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Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit



by Thomas Bowen





The Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit

                  

In the introduction Hegel is primarily concerned with the description and justification of his methodology (called the dialectic).  The Phenomenology itself is concerned with showing how philosophy can achieve real knowledge by overcoming the Kantian distinction of the thing-in-itself or noumena from the thing-for-knowledge or phenomena. So, it is important to keep in mind that the phenomenology is basically a re-doing of the Critique of Pure Reason trying to develop the same issues without having to admit that there is anything that remains outside of knowledge.  Because of this, metaphysics is not only possible, but if the strictures of speculative thought (dialectic) are adhered to, it can even be completed.

 

In terms of this Kant-Hegel connection, keep in mind these presuppositions of Hegel's position: a) that the Absolute (the whole of reality, or the truth) is always with us --i.e. it is implicit in every phase of knowledge; b) consciousness is a dynamic process that "grows" through various structures and forms which are determined by that consciousness itself; c) whereas for Kant the form of the object (the categories and space and time) are different fundamentally from the content of the object (the given sensibility), for Hegel they are ultimately the same.  The object and its objectivity are determined by the relationship of the form to the content, and the dynamic between them.

 

Method in the Introduction

            In developing his method, Hegel was addressing the problem of the standard, or criterion used in a critique of knowledge.  In any examination some form of standard is necessary in order to judge the object under investigation.  With the need for this criterion the problem arises of justifying the standard to be used: "where Science has just begun to come on the scene, neither Science nor anything else has yet justified itself as the essence or the in-itself; and without something of the sort it seems that no examination can take place" (PhS, 81). What Hegel wants to avoid here, is the mere assertion of a specific criterion to be used in the investigation and critique of knowledge.  In other words, some method of justification must be found which does not rely upon something which is itself unproven.  How is it possible to justify a criterion of knowledge, when it is knowledge itself that must be put to the test?  There appear to be two possible solutions.  First, one can assert a meta-level to knowledge that is of such a nature that it cannot be proven (e.g. some foundational structure like God).  Second, one could posit some criterion that does not claim a transcendental status, but receives its legitimation via "common sense" (e.g. axiomatic principles which are merely stipulated, or the nature of reality or experience).  Neither of these solutions is adequate for Hegel.  In both cases the critique would merely be putting itself alongside various other critiques and founding its claim to legitimacy in the same way as the other Sciences, through mere assertion of its truth.  The result would be a mutual standoff, with no other reason present for choosing one criterion over another aside from authority or faith.  Hegel finds a unique solution to this problem of the criterion.  Very simply, he looks to the object under investigation, namely consciousness, to provide its own criterion.  With this solution Hegel hopes to accomplish two things.  On the one hand, he will no longer be caught up in the aporia of legitimating a particular standard for the critique of knowledge.  On the other hand, he will be able to show how consciousness itself provides the pathway to Science through its own immanent critique, and hence it will be unnecessary for Science to appeal to faith or authority in its development. 

            Consciousness, for Hegel, "simultaneously distinguishes itself from something and at the same time relates itself to it" ( 82).  Through this movement of distinction and relation consciousness creates its own criterion for judging the validity and truth of its knowledge, making it unnecessary for Hegel to arbitrarily presuppose a standpoint of critique.  There is actually a dual separation going on here.  On the one hand, we have consciousness distinguishing itself from an object, and positing in this distinction the existence of that object as something outside of consciousness or as something which exists independently of consciousness.  On the other hand, in consciousness' simultaneous relating itself back to the object we have an appropriation of the object as known, as an object of knowledge.  Hence, not only is there a separation between consciousness and the object, but we see a separation within the object as well: between the object as it exists for consciousness or as known and the object as it exists in itself or as the truth of the object.  This latter 'side' of the object, the object as it is posited existing in-itself, in its truth, is going to serve as the standard by which consciousness can judge its own knowledge. 

            The essential point, Hegel tells us, "is that these two moments ... 'being-for-another' and 'being-in-itself' both fall within that knowledge we are investigating" ( 83).  Since both of these moments (the standard of critique and the knowledge to be examined) fall within consciousness, "we are spared the trouble of comparing the two and really testing them ... all that is left for us to do is simply to look on" ( 85).  Thus, not only is the standard by which knowledge is examined internal to that knowledge, but the critique itself is purely internal.  It is carried out by consciousness.  Consciousness is something, then, that is necessarily divided against its self.  It is something that includes within itself the division between its knowledge, on the one hand, and the truth of this knowledge, or the object that is known, on the other.  Consciousness cannot merely rest in this division.  Hegel tells us that consciousness is "something that goes beyond limits, and since these limits are its own, it is something that goes beyond itself" ( 80).  What this means is that consciousness in this dual positing of its knowledge and the truth of this knowledge makes the explicit demand that these two aspects of it correspond.  It necessarily requires that the object that is in-itself becomes known and hence for-consciousness; in other words, that its knowledge be true.  Consciousness is, then, in-itself a dynamic, a movement that constantly posits a distinction and attempts to overcome that distinction.  When consciousness, in the course of this internal examination, finds that its two moments do not correspond, that the for-consciousness and the in-itself are not the same, it may appear that it has merely to alter its knowledge in order to reach the truth.  However, these two moments are so interconnected in their being posited by consciousness that the alteration of one is the alteration of the other: "in the alteration of knowledge, the object alters for it (consciousness) too, for the knowledge that was present was essentially a knowledge of the object" ( 85).  Thus, both the knowledge and the criterion fail the test, and are altered accordingly.  The result, then, is the appearance of a new object; hence, a new criterion.  Put another way, consciousness experiences this non-correspondence as a failure of its cognition and its criterion.  The object shows itself to be not in-itself.  The object is known, but now consciousness knows this as an object that is not in-itself, hence the criterion fails.  Since this is primarily a moment of cognition, consciousness' knowledge fails too.  This failing is the negation of consciousness' criterion and knowledge; it is not in-itself.  However, in this negation consciousness is pointed towards something else.  If the object is not in-itself it must be in something else, something more fundamental, the true essence of the object and knowledge.  This can also be seen in terms of the canceling of the distinction that exists within consciousness between the object in itself (the truth) and the object for consciousness (knowledge).  When consciousness finds that these two moments do not correspond, it realizes that the object that it took to be in-itself, is only in-itself for consciousness.  Hence, that this object is for consciousness, even as the knowledge of the object is for consciousness.  Consciousness cancels the distinction it had originally posited to exit between itself and its object.  However, this does not result in a mere identification.  Instead, since what was originally for consciousness the in-itself, is now understood as the in-itself only for consciousness.  Consciousness thus reverses itself; it alters both its knowledge and its object in this cancellation of the distinction.

            It is in this sense that Hegel refers to this negation as a determinate negation.  Consciousness' experience of itself in its untruth (the failure of its cognition and criterion) is not "merely a negative procedure" ( 79).  Instead, as we have seen, this experience results in a new form of consciousness, a new object or truth, and a new knowledge of that truth.  The negation is a negation of something; hence it has content or is a determinate negation ( 79).  It is the untruth of this truth.  Indeed, the new form of consciousness that results from this experience has precisely this for its object or truth: that the truth is the untruth of the first truth, or that the knowledge was of something that was not in-itself.  This is the reversal of consciousness.  What was originally posited as true it now takes as untrue ( 87).              The importance of the determinate negation in the dialectic cannot be overemphasized.  This determinate negation keeps the movement of consciousness internal, making it unnecessary for consciousness to look outside of itself to find its new knowledge and object.  In the negation of the first form of consciousness a new form arises based upon that negation.  Thus, consciousness will proceed through a necessary progression of different forms of consciousness until it arrives at a point when its truth and certainty, when its knowledge and object meet in such a way that this truth and certainty is expressly for and in consciousness and consciousness is aware of it as its own essence.  It will no longer posit as determining something outside of itself, some given object or truth; and when this is accomplished "it will signify the nature of absolute knowledge itself" ( 89).  This progression is made by the determinate negation of the forms of consciousness, the self-negation of consciousness.

            The Phenomenology stands, thus, as the precursor to Science.  It is necessary for consciousness to go through this process of its own determinate negation before it can reach the standpoint from which it can begin the Science of philosophy.  In the Science of Logic[1], Hegel again touches upon the method that he uses in the Phenomenology.  "In the Phenomenology of Spirit I have expounded an example of this method in application to a more concrete object, namely to consciousness" (SL, 53-54).  Here Hegel again speaks of the importance of the determinate negation: "All that is necessary to achieve scientific progress--and it is essential to strive to gain this quite simple insight--is the recognition of the logical principle that the negative is just as much the positive, or that what is self-contradictory does not resolve itself into a nullity ... (but rather) into the negation of its particular content" (54).  Hence, if we conceive of the non-correspondence between the two moments of consciousness as a moment of self-contradiction (in the sense that two things that are mutually opposed to one another exist within the same thing, viz. consciousness), then this self-contradiction resolves itself in a determinate negation of this particular form of consciousness that holds those two moments apart.  The determinate negation results in a new form of consciousness that overcomes this distinction, and explicitly recognizes the sameness of the difference, and the difference of the same.  Another important aspect of Hegel's discussion of the method in the Logic is his discussion of the method as a retreat into the ground.

            While it is certainly the case that this determinate negation is that which causes consciousness to grow, in the sense that each succeeding form of consciousness grows out of the determinate negation of the prior stage, it is also true that this genesis is an explication.  It is in this sense that Hegel refers to the movement of consciousness as a "retreat into the ground" (71).  The growth of consciousness that is generated by the determinate negation is the explication in each succeeding form of consciousness of what was implicit in the prior form.  "Thus, consciousness on its onward path from the immediacy from which it began is led back to absolute knowledge as its innermost truth" (71).  The fulfillment of consciousness, in Absolute Knowing, is not only the result of the process of determinate negation that begins with Sense-Certainty, but is also its ground.  With this concept of the "retreat into ground," or the determinate negation as the explication of the truth of consciousness, Hegel has accomplished two things.  First, he has shown that the standpoint of Science--of Absolute Truth--exists within natural consciousness itself in its everyday activity as something implicit.  With this Hegel hoped to overcome the ever-widening gulf between the philosopher and the 'natural' consciousness of the everyday world.  He does this while respecting the right of that everyday consciousness: "the individual (of natural consciousness) has the right to demand that Science ... show him this standpoint within himself" (PhS, 26).  Second, Hegel has closed his system, in the sense that it no longer depends for its justification for anything which exists outside of itself.  The endpoint of the system grounds the beginning and, as the result of the beginning, is conversely grounded therein.

            This is not to say, however, that Hegel does not presuppose some things.  He does indeed presuppose consciousness itself. With this presupposition he is able to validate the beginning of his system without involving himself in a vicious circularity.  In other words, while it is true that Hegel's system is circular since the ground is itself a result, this is not a vicious circularity because the endpoint is not presupposed as such in order to validate the beginning.  The beginning is contained within the structure of natural consciousness itself and all Hegel presupposes is the existence of this natural consciousness.  It can be argued that this presupposition is necessary to any investigation of knowledge at all.

 


Consciousness: Sense-certainty, Perception and the Understanding.

 

Sense-Certainty

 

            Considering that we are here undertaking a critique of knowledge, and that we are proceeding along Kantian lines, it is natural to begin with sense-certainty for two primary reasons.  First, it is the most basic way in which we confront and deal with objects in our experience.  We take them "as they are" already filled with meaning, etc.  We imagine that all of our knowledge is of something purely sensible and that this is enough to maintain its objectivity and truth.  Second, this is the most immediate form of knowledge possible --in sensible intuition we immediately receive the object and appear to make no contributions to its construction.  (Consider here the Kantian Copernican Revolution).

            Because of this the object is a pure sensibility (an object in time and space => connection to Kant's transcendental aesthetic).  It is a "This" which is a "Here and Now."  This "This" contains the fullness of our experience implicitly (it is of course unexplicated or un-articulated in this form).  It is a pure universal that contains everything within it (think of Being in the Logic and in medival metaphysics): everything can be called a this or a that.

            However, our experience of objects is not structured along these universal lines.  When we are aware, we are aware of a "this something," a "this particular thing" and we ourselves are a "this I" not a universal I.  But, obviously, the universal title of "this" cannot account for the particularity or individuality of the object of our experience.  Because of this conflict between the universality of the structures of space and time and the particularity of the objects experienced, a dialectical process unfolds that shows that the object captured in the "this here and now" is not as simple as the universal concept of "this" assumes.

 

            The concepts of "here and now" originate in the consciousness' attempt to determine the universal "this" as a particular this: we say "this here and now" to distinguish it from other "thises".  However, we find that the "here and now" suffers the same fate as the "this" itself.  The "here and now" constantly slips into a "not here and now".  Now is day, but, now is night, and now is noon, and now is mid-night, all of these nows are nows, but they are not the same.  This now is not that now, now is not now, as it were.  Here is a tree; if I turn around I say here is a house.  Here is not here.  That here is not the same as this here.

 

            What is going on?  The form of the thought and object (the object as it is for us --a this here and now) is not adequate to the content of the thought and object (the object as it is in itself) the object is a particular something.  This inadequacy leads to a breakdown of sense certainty.  The form of thought changes and the object (content) changes as well.  We now see the object as a mixture of universality and particularity (rather than as pure sensibility or particularity) and the thought must reflect this faithfully.  So, we move to the next level.

 

 

Perception

            Perception, as the form of consciousness that is the determinate negation of Sense-Certainty, takes up the result of Sense-Certainty: the mediated universal.  Since this will characterize the principle of Perception both sides of the initial division within consciousness (between the subject and the object) will be universals.  Thus, the central principle in defining the object will be the mediated universal.  Hegel calls this the Thing with many properties.

            Even as in Sense-Certainty, the "title" of the object points rather directly toward its structural make-up.  Hegel gives a summary of the constitution of the Thing in #115.  Here the Thing is described as containing three moments: the Also, the One and the Properties.  Of course, the primary constitution of the Thing lies neither in any one of these moments separately, nor in there cohesion; but rather in the movement of these moments one into the other, and in their relation to one another through this movement or dialectic.

            We begin with the Also.  Consciousness (in Perception) recognizes the Thing to contain properties, and these properties are seen as being (while the negative of each other) "indifferent and free from one another"(68).  However, they are seen as inhering within a universal medium that is indifferent to the properties that it contains.  This universal, indifferent medium which contains the universal (because they are self-related) indifferent properties is called the Also.  The Also is the thinghood of the object, it is merely that in which the equally indifferent properties inhere, it is "the simple togetherness of a plurality"(68).  The Also is the moment of positive universality, because there is no moment of negation present, no relation exists other than the simple relation of self to self, thus the indifference between the medium and the properties and between the properties themselves.

            The second moment is the One.  The indifferentness of the Also contradicts the determinateness of the object of Perception.  For something can be determinate only insofar as it is related negatively to other objects as a not-this.  This moment of differentiation, of determinateness, cannot be contained within the Also because it is an indifferent medium.  Thus it falls outside of the medium, and shows the medium to be not merely and Also, but a One, a unity which excludes from itself other objects, which sets itself apart as itself, thereby relating itself to the others in opposition, in negation.  Thus, the One is the "moment of negation"(69).  As such thinghood becomes the thing, something definite, the "One which excludes opposite properties"(69).

            The third moment is that of the properties themselves.  Here they are not seen as within a unity (either of thinghood or thing) but rather as the negation of the first to moments, and their explosion into a "host of differences; the point of singular individuality...radiating forth into plurality"(69).

            In matching up the different aspects of the Thing to the structures developed within Sense-Certainty, one is primarily struck by the seemingly complete lack of similarity between the objects.  The This of Sense-Certainty is something completely devoid of any internal differentiation, or of any sort external relation to other objects, while the Thing is the Thing because of its internal differentiation into properties on the one hand, and its negative relation to other objects on the other.  However, there most certainly are similarities between these two structures.

            The Also, as the indifferent universal medium is very similar to the "Here & Now" as the universal which is indifferent to its content.  It is precisely the indifference that accounts for the similarity between these two structures.  On the one hand we have the "Here & Now" as universal.  Its structure, qua universal, is to be at once neither this nor that and "with equal indifference" this as well as that.  On the other hand, the Also is described as being indifferent to its properties.  So the Also can be either this or that set of properties, and "with equal indifference" neither this nor that set of properties.

            The One also appears to have a counter part in Sense-Certainty.  To wit the last moment of the dialectic wherein consciousness attempts to hold fast to one sensation, to one intuition of the object.  In doing so consciousness must relate this object negatively to the whole field of sensation in order for it to stand out as a single moment.  So too in Perception the One is negatively related (through its properties?) to other things, to other Ones, and thus stands out as determinate and singular. 

            Other things, as such, do not appear until the third and last movement of Perception, beginning with paragraph 123.  Indeed, these other things appear in order to diffuse the contradiction that exists at this point within the Thing itself.  Briefly stated, at this point in the dialectic, consciousness perceives the Thing as being both for-itself and for-another (the One and the Also).  The proximity of these two moments, their inhering within the same Thing is what gives rise to the contradiction.  Consciousness attempts to resolve this contradiction by distributing the oneness and difference between different Things (74).  This preserves the unity of the Thing, its self-identity, its truth.

            Now we are able to begin examining why it is that consciousness cannot perceive the Thing as different from other Things without perceiving it as self-contradictory.  It is this, which will be the dynamic that will "push" consciousness onward towards Understanding.

            This distribution of the two moments of the Thing (oneness and difference) fails, because in this distribution consciousness has related the Thing to other Things and thereby established the Thing as a different Thing (75).  This means that it must have that which makes it different from other Things, this difference, within itself.  Consequently, the Thing is driven back from the other Things and returns to itself.  Thus, not only does consciousness undergo the movement back into itself, but the Thing is also composed of an outward and inward moment.  The contradiction resides here.  In attempting to take up the Thing as different from other Things consciousness must posit some difference to exist within the Thing itself that differentiates between the Things.  This point of difference cannot be the oneness of the Thing, since, indeed, it is this oneness that makes the Thing appear the same as other Things.  This moment of difference must therefore be the manifold, or plurality of determinate properties.  Thus we say: this thing is different from that thing because this thing is white, whereas that one is green; this one is hard and that soft.  However, this plurality, contradicts the singularity or oneness of the Thing. 

            Furthermore, this contradiction can be seen in terms of relation rather than in terms of the one and the many.  On the one hand the Thing's truth is its self-relation.  On the other hand, in perceiving the Thing as different from other Things, it must relate the Thing to others, and this moment of relation to others must be contained within the Thing itself.  If it is not within the Thing, and then it cannot be said to be different in itself from other Things.  This relation to others contradicts the relation to self, and since both are contained within the Thing, are moments of the Thing, it is self-contradictory.  Thus, Hegel tells us that the Thing is its own opposite: "it is for itself, so far as it is for another, and it is for another, so far as it is for itself" (76).

 

The Understanding

            In the Understanding consciousness has arrived at a new truth (hence, a new object) and this is the unconditioned universal.  This is what consciousness is going to try and grasp in its attempts to know its object.  In Perception the universal was limited, or conditioned by the sensuous field.  The determinate negation of this truth of Perception results in the unconditioned universal, which is the unity of the limiting and limited.  For it is found that what limits an object (its being-for-another) is merely another moment of the in-itself.  This is how the Understanding will first take up its new object.  Put another way, both Perception and Understanding are looking for a stable in-itself of the object, whereas Perception attempts to find this in the sensuous object itself, Understanding accepts this object, qua perceivable, as a perpetual flux, and hence is forced to look elsewhere for its objective unity.  Even though Hegel tells us that in the Understanding "consciousness has arrived at thoughts" this is still an object oriented consciousness (PhS, 79).  In other words, it is still positing the truth to exist outside of itself, to be in effect the identity of the object.  We should also note, before proceeding on to an examination of Understanding, the involvement of consciousness here.  In Perception the involvement of consciousness was implicit; i.e. there was a movement between consciousness and the object that was unrecognized as such by that consciousness[i].  However, in Understanding this implicit involvement is going to be made explicit, and this is going to be the transition into self-consciousness.  Now we must watch and see how the Understanding attempts to grasp its object qua the unconditioned universal.

            The Understanding first takes up this unconditioned universal as it immediately presents itself.  The object immediately presents itself as the perpetual transition between being-in-itself and being-for-another, this is called Force.  However, as so presented this object shows itself to be a mere vanishing.  Consciousness cannot grasp the unconditioned universal within this movement of pure vanishing.  Put another way, it cannot grasp the unity of these moments (force expressed and proper) in this movement of one vanishing into the other.  As such consciousness has failed to grasp its truth immediately.  The negation of this first position results in consciousness now having a "mediating relation to the inner being and, as the Understanding, (consciousness) looks through this mediating play of forces into the true background of things" (86).  With this new mediated relationship between consciousness and its object (its truth), consciousness is forced to look beyond the sensible into a new world that opens upon above the sensible: the supersensible world (87).

 

The Supersensible World and Law.

            The unconditioned universal is now posited as existing in a mediated relationship to consciousness, as the supersensible world.  The supersensible world first presents itself as the empty beyond of the sensible world.  As so posited it cannot function as the ground for the truth of consciousness' knowledge.  Indeed, as the ungraspable beyond it throws all knowledge permanently into question because there can never be a meeting between truth and certainty.  For the truth would remain beyond the grasp of knowledge.  However, the Understanding corrects this problem by recognizing that the supersensible world "comes from the world of appearance which has mediated it; in other words, appearance is its essence and its filling" (89).  As the truth of appearance the supersensible world is appearance qua appearance.  This appearance qua appearance must be distinguished from appearance itself.  The latter is the vanishing moment, the appearance whose truth it is to disappear and be replaced by another appearance.  The former is what is constant is all of this: that things will appear.  Hence, the appearance qua appearance is what determines or grounds the particular appearances.  It is what will "remain the same in the play of Force and what is true in it.  It is the law of Force" (90).  Thus, the supersensible world becomes the "inert realm of laws" (90).  Consciousness now wants to grasp the unconditioned universal as this realm of laws. 

            In attempting to grasp this truth of appearance it finds that it must posit many laws corresponding to the many appearances.  However these many laws contradict the unitary nature of the truth.  In order to maintain the unconditioned universal as that which remains the same in the flux of appearance, it must subsume all of the different laws into one law; the universal law of attraction.  Basically, this is the law that states that there is some cohesion in the universe of vanishing appearances.  However, with this single undifferentiated law (called Force) an abyss seems to open between these two worlds (the supersensible and the sensible).  In attempting to grasp this truth as this one Force, it looses the necessary connection between the law and its appearance.  This problem with necessity shows itself in two ways: "either the universal, Force, is indifferent to the division which is the law, or the differences, the parts, of the law are indifferent to one another" (94).  The connection appears to be one of indifference.  Hence, the necessity of law is a sham.  The understanding fails to be able to grasp the unconditioned universal as the necessary connection between these two worlds (or as the unity of the world of appearance).  With this failure the Understanding then takes this necessity upon itself.  It recognizes the necessity as a merely verbal necessity and the distinguishing of the moments (the difference) as being, consequently, no distinction (94). 

 

Explanation and Infinity.

            Hegel defines explanation as the process whereby the moments of a difference are posited, then recognized as not being a difference and hence overcome.  In other words, we observe a phenomenon, say a flash of lightning, we posit the difference as different moments, the positive and negative poles and the discharge between them, and then recognize that this refers to nothing other than the lightning itself.  There is no difference in the content expressed by these two.  Thus, we see that the law is the same as, nothing other than, the Force from which it has been distinguished.  Explanation takes the form of "lightning is electricity" or "A=A".  "A" is distinguished from itself then related to itself, overcoming this distinction.  The reason that the distinction is overcome is because it was not a real distinction.  To distinguish "A" from "A" is to make a distinction that is not a distinction and, thus, this posited distinction is canceled.  Explanation, then, is tautology.  But, this tautological movement takes place within consciousness since it "sticks to the inert unity of its object" (95).  The tautological movement shows itself to be nothing more than the flux that was present in the play of forces with which the dialectic of understanding began.  Through explanation the flux, which was positioned external to the inner world in the original comprehension of the supersensible world, has "penetrated into the supersensible world itself" (95).  It enters into the inner world, and hence becomes a law of appearance, because the supersensible world was precisely what was said to be intelligible about the world of appearance.  Since the content of the flux remains the same in this process the tautological movement is now a movement within the thing itself.  Hence, it can only belong to that supersensible (intelligible) world that understanding has posited as being the inner world of appearance.

            We thus have another law originating from this movement of explanation, namely, "that like becomes unlike and unlike becomes like" (96).  This law is the contrary to the first law of the supersensible world.  The first law was that of the permanence in the impermanence (the universal law of attraction), this second law is that of the permanence of the impermanence.  This gives rise to the inverted world, the opposite of the previous world where the law of universal attraction held sway.  The distinction that had been posited between the supersensible world and the world of appearance has been collapsed as no distinction.  It is important to note here that with explanation consciousness is beginning to become aware of its role in the constitution of the world.  For in explanation "consciousness is, so to speak, communing directly with itself, enjoying only itself; although it seems to be busy with something else, it is in fact occupied only with itself" (101).

            This movement of self-diremption and re-unification is what Hegel calls infinity.  The unconditioned universal is now posited as having the character of infinity, as being something that at once distinguishes itself from itself and then relates itself back to itself.  This means that it is at once "self-identical and within itself different" and as such is both what remains the same in the flux and the flux itself; i.e. the process of positing a difference which is no difference and hence overcoming this difference (99).  It is in this movement of explanation and infinity that self-consciousness first "clearly stands forth (101).  We must now look more closely at how and why this is the case.

 

 

The Transition to Self-Consciousness

            We see then that in this attempt to grasp the object as the unconditioned universal consciousness becomes aware of its own involvement in the constitution and process of knowledge.  It is no longer merely a passive receiver but an active part of the process.  In other words, it is reflected back out of the object and into itself.  Even as the distinctions that were posited within the object are seen as being no distinctions and overcome, as having this character of infinity, so too does consciousness now recognize that the distinction it had posited as existing between itself and the object is no distinction and hence is overcome.  Consciousness also has the character of infinity.  The original distinction posited between consciousness and the supersensible world has collapsed.  "It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain which is supposed to conceal the inner world, there is nothing to be seen unless we go behind it ourselves, as much in order that we may see, as that there may be something behind there which can be seen" (103).  This should not be taken as a manifesto for some form of Berkeleyian subjective idealism, however.  For Hegel is not claiming that objects are merely projections of our minds.  Rather, he is claiming that what is at bottom fundamental for any objective knowledge is self-consciousness.  The consciousness of an object presupposes self-consciousness, or the consciousness of self.  This can be seen quite clearly any time we attempt to understand or grasp some event.  In our attempts to grasp some event we display our concern with the objective world.  It is this concern (evoked in such statements "I want to grasp the truth here"; "I am trying to understand what is going on"; "I am concerned with what lies behind the appearance", etc.), which incorporates the objective into the subjective.  In being concerned with something we reach out to something and at the same time are conscious of ourselves as/in this reaching out.  Hence, we effectively collapse this distance which consciousness has posited between itself and the object since Sense-Certainty.  This does not mean that the world of sensory objects has been lost, for it is contained within this new form of consciousness (as self-consciousness) in its negated state, as something that consciousness reflects itself out of and back into itself.  We saw in our discussion of the method that consciousness was concerned with matching its knowledge with what it posited as the in-itself or truth.  With the recognition of self-consciousness this has been achieved.  For with the Understanding consciousness has arrived at the realization that in distinguishing itself from another and in the simultaneous relation back towards the other it has effectively overcome the prior distinction.  In other words, as it relates itself to the object it is simultaneously reflected back out of the object and into itself: "the 'I' is the content of the connection (between consciousness and the object) and the connecting itself" (104). 

            This, then, is the character of the transition from consciousness to self-consciousness.  Self-consciousness is the determinate negation of consciousness because it is precisely this process of negating the original distinction that is fundamental to all consciousness, viz. the distinction between consciousness and the object of consciousness.  It is the result of the determinate negation of Understanding because it is within Understanding that consciousness comes to realize that the unconditioned universal (which it had posited as its truth) was not distinct from itself.  In other words, it is consciousness as self-consciousness that provides the moment of cohesiveness for the multiplicity of appearances. 

 

Hegel on Contradiction

            The term "contradiction" appears in the context of the transition from consciousness as Understanding to self-consciousness.  Indeed, it is contradiction that makes consciousness self-consciousness.  Hegel seems to define contradiction as "antithesis within the antithesis itself" (99).  What this means is an opposition that is in one thing.  It is not an opposition between two things that are external and indifferent to one another, but an opposition that exists within the thing itself.  What does this mean?  If we take the example of negative and positive (an example that Hegel uses), we can see how this internal opposition, or contradiction, works.  If we posit the positive to exist independently of the negative and then try to analyze their respective beings, we find that within the being of each is necessarily the being of the other.  Thus, there is no positive without its opposite, the negative and vice versa.  This is not, however, to be construed, as it was in the first sections of both Perception and Understanding, as if the positive and the negative, while existing "independently" of one another, each having its own in-itself, were nevertheless necessary for one another.  Rather, this having of ones being in its opposite is the overcoming of this opposition, in a sense, and recognizing that this opposition is within the thing itself.  In other words, it is not that the positive and negative stand opposed to one another, but that the positive is the negative of itself, it opposes itself to itself, this opposition is contained within a unity.

            Contradiction, then, is just this internal opposition.  Where the other of the selfsame, or the difference is contained within, or "immediately present" in the selfsame. 



    [1]  Hegel's Science of Logic, tr. A. V. Miller (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1989).  Hereafter referred to as SL.



[i].  There is some recognition on the part of Perception of this involvement.  However, this is a mere negative recognition.  Consciousness recognizes that the possibility of error resides in itself and in its attempts to perceive its object.