Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hegel on Universal Consciousness and Reason - Summary (The Phenomenology of Spirit)

The contradictions or divisions implicit in self-consciousness are overcome in the third phase of The Phenomenology of Spirit when the finite subject rises to universal consciousness. At this level self-consciousness no longer takes the form of one-sided awareness of oneself as an individual subject threatened by and in conflict with other self-conscious beings. Rather there is full recognition of self and the self in others. This is at least implicitly the awareness of the universal, the infinite Spirit, in and through finite selves, binding them together and yet not annulling them (identity-in-difference). [Note this is genuine community – also psychologically – although that is not Hegel’s claim.] While this awareness is implicit and imperfectly developed in moral consciousness (in which the one rational will expresses itself in a multiplicity of concrete moral vocations in the social order), this awareness of identity-in-difference, which is characteristic of the life of the Spirit, attains higher and higher expression in developed religious consciousness (for which the one divine God is present in all). Here in religious consciousness, unhappy consciousness is overcome and the true self is no longer conceived of as ideal and hopelessly alienated, but rather becomes the living core of the actual self which expresses itself in and through its finite manifestations.

This third phase of the phenomenological history of consciousness, which Hegel generally calls Reason, is represented by a synthesis of consciousness (1st phase) and self-consciousness (2nd phase). In the first phase the finite subject is aware of the sensible object as external and heterogenous to itself. In the second phase, the subject’s attention is turned back to itself as finite subject. In the third phase, the subject sees nature as the objective expression of infinite Spirit with which it is then united. Now this latter consciousness can take on different forms.

For example, in developed religious consciousness the subject sees nature as the creation and manifestation of God, with whom it is united in the depth of its being and through whom it is united with other selves (we are all part of God’s creation). But the truth of this religious consciousness is expressed figuratively and pictorially, where at the stage of philosophical reflection this truth is apprehended philosophically/conceptually. Here the finite subject is explicitly conscious of its inmost self as a moment in the life of the infinite and universal Spirit, as a moment of absolute Thought. As such the subject sees nature as its own objectification and as a precondition of its own life as actually existing Spirit. This does not mean that nature is merely the product of subjectivity rather the finite subject sees itself as more than finite and as a moment in the innermost life of the absolute Spirit (self-thinking Thought). Or, in other words, absolute knowledge is the phase at which the Absolute thinks itself as identity-in-difference (nature and history) in and through the finite mind of the philosopher.

3rd phase of consciousness: Reason

Just as Hegel develops the three main phases of the phenomenology of consciousness, he also develops the third phase of Reason through a series of dialectical phases.

(1) Reason as gaining a glimpse of its own reflection in nature (through the idea of finality, for example),
(2) as turning inwards in the study of formal logic and empirical psychology, and finally (3) as manifesting itself in a series of practical ethical attitudes, ranging from the pursuit of happiness, to criticism of universal moral law dictated by practical reason which follows from the recognition of the fact that universal law stands in need of so many qualifications that it loses all it definite meaning.

This sets the stage for the transition to concrete moral life in society.

Here Hegel moves from the unreflective ethical life in which human beings simply follow customs/traditions to the form of culture in which individual are estranged from their unreflective background and pass judgment on it. The synthesis occurs in developed moral consciousness for which the rational will is not something over and above individuals in society but a common life binding them together as free persons. The first stage is unreflective (as in Greek society before the sophists), the second is reflective but estranged from society and traditions, and in the third stage the Spirit is ethically sure of itself in the form of community of free persons embodying the general will as a living unity (reminiscent of Rousseau).

This living unity in which each member of the community is for the others a free self demands a explicit recognition of the idea of identity-in-difference, of a life which is present in all as their inner bond of unity though it does not annihilate them as individuals. Thus it demands the explicit recognition of the idea of the concrete universal which differentiates itself into or manifests itself in the particulars uniting them within itself. In other words, morality passes dialectically into religion. In religion we see the Absolute Spirit becoming explicitly conscious of itself. But religion of course also has a history. Thus, Hegel distinguishes natural religion (wherein the divine is seen in nature), to religion of art or the beautiful (such as in Greek religion, self-consciously associated with nature – as in the statue of deity), and finally in absolute religion wherein the Absolute is seen as Spirit, nature as divine creation, namely as the expression of the Word. Of course, religion expresses itself in the pictorial/figurative mode and it therefore demands to be transmuted into the conceptual (infinite self-thinking). Thought knows itself in nature (as its objectification and the condition of its own actualization), and recognizes in the history of culture with its successive forms and levels its own Odyssey. The Totality (God) comes to know itself through the finite human spirit.

In summary, in the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel starts at the lowest levels of human consciousness and works dialectically to the level at which the human mind attains the absolute point of view and becomes a vehicle of infinite self-conscious Spirit. The connections between one level and the next are often very loose, logically speaking. And some of the stages are obviously suggested not so much by the demands of a dialectical development as by Hegel’s reflections on the spirits and attitudes of different cultural phases or epochs.

summary of  Phenomenology of Spirit:

Hegel On Self-Consciousness
Hegel on Universal Consciousness and Reason


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