Notes on Peter Kalkavage's Logic of Desire

I don't know what's come over me but despite everything else I'm currently reading and working on I decided to drop everything and start taking notes on this book in preperation for my second reading of Hegel. I've read the Phenomenology once and practically read it like a novel (instead of actually thinking through it) so, I'm basically an expert, I should be able to handle this. I have the power of God and anime on my side. While most of these selections are recorded verbatim, some have been edited for my own clarity and reuse.

Prologue: The Ladder and the Labyrinth

There is no genuine philosophic education that does not include more than passing acquaintance with this modern giant, who absorbed all the words of spiritual vitality that came before him and tried to organize them into a coherent whole.

Conceived as the prelude to philosophic Science, the Phenomenology offers the reader what Hegel calls a ladder to the absolute.

In the words of one commentator, 'no book is less suited to a beginner.'

'Who, or what, is Hegel talking about here?' is a question that often comes to mind as we struggle to connect the logical exposition with a concrete experience, historical event, philosopher, or character in a novel or play.

I have tried to provide a thread through Hegel's labyrinth: to help the reader see and appreciate what it has to teach us.

First-time readers in particular must bear in mind that even the most strenuous effort at clarity on the part of a would-be guide is bound to have its shortcomings, and will not remove, or appreciably soften, Hegel's hardness.

We learn from his dialectical way of thinking, which challenges our most basic assumptions about what it means to think, his trenchant character studies, and the many powerful insights that appear throughout. Above all, we learn about the complex spirit of modernity, and so come to know ourselves, and our origins, more deeply.

As my title indicates, I will treat the Phenomenology as Hegel's logic of desire. Desire, as we shall see, has a specific meaning in Hegel's book. The Phenomenology is a logic of desire because it attempts to give a rational account, a logos, of the mortal striving for immortal truth. It is the account of thought on its way to Science.

Desire and its completion are closely connected with another central theme of this introduction: selfhood. The self is the point around which the Phenomenology turns. The task of the work is to demonstate how truth and subject, being and thought, God and man, are ultimately one.

Geist, which means both spirit and mind, is the condition of fully developed selfhood. This is selfhood that exists as the living interrelation and community of human individuals.

Hegel's book, more importantly, reveals the precise way in which our communal or social being is essential to the history and perfection of knowledge. The history of our sociality is most deeply and properly understood as the history of reason.

One implication of identifying man and self-consciousness is that man, for Hegel, does not just come to know the truth: he comes to know that he is the truth. The meaning of this extraordinary claim will become clearer as we proceed.

The author identifies the double meaning of Hegel's book as so: The Phenomenology chronicles the path to Science. His goal is to transform philosophy as the love of knowing into actual knowing. But the book also shows the path by which man as self consciousness comes to be self-actualized and free in the context of the human community. In the Phenomenology these two paths converge and become one path: human self-actualization and absolute knowing, the practical and the theoretical aspects of spirit, are ultimately identical. Or, as I mentioned above, the history of our sociality is the history of reason.

Harris's dogged attempt to identify the historical Gestalten or human 'shapes' that Hegel sets out to analyze reminds us that the Phenomenology, in spite of its abstract language, is about concrete human experiences.

The author says that Richard Kroner's essay, entitled 'Hegel's Philosophical Development' which appears as the introduction to Hegel's Early Theological Writings, is an engaging essay well suited to the first-time reader.

Unlike the Greater Logic and the Encyclopaedia, the Phenomenology is exuberantly imaginative, rhetorically charged, and often deliberately cryptic.

Hegel strikes the note of inspired revelation: of shocking reversals, secrets brought to light, and pretensions unmasked. It is a wild, sprawling work that gives credence to Hegel's claim that truth is 'a bacchanalian frenzy in which no one is not drunk.'

In attempting to bring some clarity to the Phenomenology, I have tried to preserve the colorfulness, vitality, and high drama of this astonishing book.

My goal has been, above all, to make my reader want to read Hegel.

As for Hegel's baffling terminology, I have not provided a glossary but will instead define important terms as they come up. My reason for doing so is that the meaning of Hegel's terms is somewhat fluid and depends on the context in which they are used.

There's an excellent translation with running commentary of Hegel's Preface by Yirmiyahu Yovel. I may want to consult that as well in the future.

Preparing the Journey

Chapter I: A World of Knowing

Each of us suffers his own shade.
Virgil, Aeneid, Book 6

The Phenomenology belongs to the quartet of greatest works on education. The others are Plato's Republic, Dante's Divine Comedy, and Rousseau's Emile.

Despite their profound differences, these works have important similarities. One is that each reflects on education through some overarching story. In the Phenomenology, education is not simply talked about but presented as a drama or story. It is the turbulent tale of how spirit or mind, Geist, struggles to achieve self-knowledge in the form of philosophic Science.

Another similarity is that all four are tales of liberation. Each tells of how man is freed from bondage. In the Phenomenology, the role of cave, dark wood, or corrupting influence is played by what Hegel calls natural consciousness, which is what human spirit finds itself within and struggles to be free from.

Natural consciousness is not merely our prison, it is also a manifestation of spirit, the mode in which our human essence is immediately there. In overcoming natural consciousness, in becoming free, spirit overcomes the most elementary condition of its own existence.

Lastly, each work in the quartet explores the bond between reason on one hand, and action and passion on the other: between man as thinker, and man as the being who acts and feels. Genuine education must be complete and radical. It must change our lives, not just our minds.

Hegel educates his reader by initiating him into the minds of others.

The Phenomenology, he says, is a picture gallery: a colorful array of human types or 'shapes of consciousness.' These are the phenomena of which the Phenomenology is the logos or reasoned account.

We meet the Scientist and the Warrior, the Stoic and the Skeptic, the God-haunted Unhappy Consciousness and the self-deifying Beautiful Soul. Sometimes we meet characters lifted from fiction: Antigone, Faust, or Rameau's nephew. All are stages on the way to the fully developed selfhood that is spirit.

Each of these shapes embodies a specific claim to know that has appeared on the stage of world-history. These shapes do not ask questions: they assert, or posit. Positing combines understanding and will. It is to affirm a truth, to invest oneself in that truth, in the act of positing, the I risks itself.

Spirit comes to know itself, not through methodical inquiry but through passionate self-assertion. Spirit is spirited. As we will repeatedly see, this spirited self-risking is spirit's folly: all the claims fall to the ground. They do so because they are finite or partial and fail to capture the whole truth.

The act of positing is also spirit's bravery, it cannot make progress or even a beginning without making a fool of itself. It is fated by the demands of its nature to learn through suffering.

The shapes of consciousness we are about to examine are not mental facultuies but universal stances that have appeared in world history. They are instances of knowledge as it exists or is there. Prior to absolute knowing, spirit's claims to know are all in the realm of Schein, illusion. But it is not illusory that these claims have come on the scene in history as objective manifesations of spirit's effort to know itself. In that sense, they are Erscheinung, appearance as a shining forth and a presence.

Sense-certainty, the very first shape, is not a psychological state but an objectively manifest claim to know, a burst of spiritual energy on the world stage. It is mind incarnate at its lowest stage of development. He presents sense-certainty as a character that asserts its claim, reverses its position, and undergoes experience. The human individuals who posit sense-certainty as absolute are incarnations of its spirit. They are the hosts of sense-certainty, which is the soul of their claim to know.

In the most important respect in which the Phenomenology differs from the others of the quartet, the Phenomenology is not only the path by which man comes to know himself and God, it is also the path by which God, as divine Mind, comes to know himself in and through man. This is the goal of Hegel's tome: to demonstrate the presence of divine Mind within human history, eternity within time, God within the human community.

In his Introduction, Hegel uses the Stations of the Cross to suggest a bond between the journey of consciousness and the Passion of Christ. At the very end of the final chapter, he refers to history as the 'inwardizing and Place of Skulls of absolute spirit.' These obscure appropriations of Christian imagery emphasize that Hegel's book is, at its deepest level, the unfolding of God's suffering in time - his coming to full self-consciousness in the course of human history.

From Aristotle, Hegel derives the teaching that Mind, nous, is divine, and that, contrary to what the poets tell us, we should strive to be divine, to transcend our finitude in the act of thinking. In philosophizing, we un-deathify ourselves.

Christianity posits a God who 'empties himself' into time, and thus becomes present both to mankind and to himself: God suffers in the form of human history. This human-divine suffering is necessary in order for God to know himself and to become actual.

Both together - the divine as pure thinking, and the divine as the suffering God who is present in history and in human community - go together to produce spirit.

To Hegel, it is Christianity that produces the definitive representation of the absolute, since it alone unites the divine with complete human individuality, and therefore death.

Christianity is the penultimate stage of the Phenomenology, only absolute knowing, philosophy in the form of Science surpasses it. Christianity contains spirit's self-knowledge in the form of images or symbols. Science comes on the scene when these absolute symbols are conceptually grasped. To this extent, for Hegel, philosophy is the rational understanding of the Christian religion.

Everything, for Hegel, is defined by its history, but the Phenomenology is neither the history of philosophy nor the history of the world simply.

In its 'upper' regions, the Phenomenology examines historical phainomena like the ancient Greek polis, modern culture, and the French Revolution.

The social realm in which human beings live, act, interact, and speak is the soil from which knowledge springs, and the medium in which it lives.

The Phenomenology is thus Hegel's attempt to show how the realm of praxis or principled, self-conscious action, transcends itself and becomes the realm of theoretical knowledge - how life becomes knowledge. But it is no less an account of how knowledge, or self-knowledge, comes to life in the context of human interaction and community.

The history of philosophy for Hegel, is the interconnected series of efforts to reach truth in a purely conceptual way. Strictly speaking, no philosophic theory is false. The history of philosophy shares in the risks of positing. Wisdom emerges as a process of becoming, and all great philosophic systems of the past contribute to its full flowering. [My interest in comparative philosophy leads me to believe that one of Hegel's weaknesses is his racist and callous disregard of foreign philosophic systems, which is something I hope to correct with my own efforts and study.]

In the Phenomenology we witness something visceral. Spirit risks itself, 'wakes up,' not by soberly thinking things through, but by entering the unpredictable realm of life. Time is not a cloak that spirit wears but the outpouring of what spirit is. History is spirit wandering in its self-created labyrinth, searching for its self-knowledge and its freedom.

Hegel preserves the Aristotelian idea of God as pure self-relating activity, but he brings this act of self-relating down into time and humanity. Harris puts it, 'Hegel's God is Aristotle's God only after he has undergone his Incarnation in his human family.'

In the Preface, Hegel tells us that the Phenomenology is about experience, or Erfahrung: 'The element of immediate experience is... what distinguishes this part of Science from the otheres.' Immediate experience here means something much more fundamental than the philosopher's conscious effort to reach the truth through rational inquiry. Experience is the historical, spontaneous emergence of spirit's effort to know itself in relation to the world in which it appears.

By the time a philosopher comes on the scene, there is already an objectively existing world out of which the philosopher grows, in which he finds his context, and whose communal spirit he expresses. In a later writing, Hegel says that the philosopher cannot leap over the Rhodes of his time, that philosophy is 'its time grasped in thoughts,' and that 'every one is in any case a son of his time.'

Spirit learns by making itself present to itself. It does this by generating a world of knowing. Antigone is not a philosopher, but she embodies a world of knowing. This is the world of the ancient Greek polis, in which Antigone knows and articulates her position with respect to family, gods, and city. This world, together with all the other realms of social life in the Phenomenology, is essential to the emergence of philosophy in the form of Science, and the completion of philosophic desire or eros.

History includes the play of contingency or chance. In revealing itself in time, spirit abandons itself to this play and therefore can neither reconstruct its past (until the final stage) nor predict its future. Spirit does not know where it is going until it gets there; it emerges rather than guides.

The task of the phenomenologist is to take the archetypal stages of knowing that spirit has assumed and grasp them in a purely conceptual way: not as merely successive but as logically interconnected. What makes this knowledge possible is that the individual shapes of knowing are modes of universality, thought-structures, in historical garb. The shape as shape is contingent, but the logical structure that embodies the shape is not.

The Phenomenology compels us to think the idea within the image, the eternal within time.

As Hegel tells us in the final chapter, spirit in the Phenomenology is engaged in recollection, Erinnerung, a word that also means inwardizing. This recollection of history, which is itself the product of history, is the philosopher's act of revealing the logically necessary within the contingent. To accomplish this, the philosopher must occasionally reorganize the temporal sequence. This is why the order in which shapes appear is often confusing and not straightforwardly chronological.

The Phenomenology is a series of spirited unmaskings. A given shape of consciousness undercuts itself in the very effort to make good on its claim to know: it turns into its opposite. [As a reader of Mao Zedong, this significance is not lost on me.] This is the tragic dimension of spirit's journey and the more precise sense in which, for Hegel, learning is suffering.

Refutation is generated from within consciousness itself. As Hegel puts it, 'consciousness suffers this violence at its own hands: it spoils its own limited satisfaction.'

But within this tragic motion of self-defeating claims, there is also resurgence. The death of one shape is the birth of another, higher shape. Spirit is like the Phoenix, always rising up again out of the ashes of its past life, or the Son of Man, who breaks the bonds of the merely natural and rises from the dead.

The series of shapes is finite. Eventually, the long arduous road, which Hegel calls a Way of Despair, reaches its destination, as the drama of unmasking gives rise, in the final chapter, to spirit's self-knowing. At this point, all the finite claims to know, the mortal shapes of consciousness, are preserved as eternal moments in the philosopher's non-temporal grasp of the temporal whole.

Absolute knowing is not confined to the final chapter, but permeates the whole of the Phenomenology. It is present in all the preceding chapters as the illusory claim to know absolutely. Hegel's word for this passionate claim to an immediate absolute knowing is certainty.

Consciousness strives repeatedly to transform its certainty into truth, that is, into a certainty that has proved itself. But learning is suffering, the more a shape struggles to transform mere certainty into truth, the more it suffers the consequences of its finitude and generates the exact opposite of what it posited.

In the end, there is Hegel's version of a 'divine comedy,' as all these tragic conflicts are resolved and preserved in genuine absolute knowing.

The six main stages of the journey of consciousness, the rungs of the ladder to the absolute, are Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, Reason, Spirit, Religion, and Absolute Knowing. A figurative and inadequate rendering of the story in terms of the wayfaring Self goes as follows:

I. as Consciousness, the Self is fascinated by the external world, by nature and by nature's promise of being the source and standard of truth. The Self at this stage is not interested in doing, making, or desiring anything. Its obsession with objectivity makes it a purely theoretical bystander.

II. as Self-Consciousness, the Self goes to the other extreme. Obsessed with itself and its individuality, and overwhelmed by a desire for self-assertin and freedom, it enters the realm of action. But its violent desire dissolves into a yearning for a pure Self that it can never reach. Its pride is humbled before this higher Self.

III. as Reason, the Self asserts its individuality. It rises up and makes a heaven of its former hell and seeks to master the world through its own resources, to experience itself as the external world. But Reason's 'certainty of being all reality' is shown to be abstract, a mere dream. For all its exertion, the Self fails to generate a world and remains trapped inside its individuality.

IV. at the level of Spirit, this external thing that has always opposed the Self acquires selfhood or soul. It becomes a social world or concrete community, universality that is actually alive. The Self is now fully conscious of itself as embodied and substantial. World acquires selfhood or indwardness, and selfhood has been made concrete and real, as the Greek nation, the Roman Empire, modern culture, and Kantian morality. Man is now aware of himself as the self and substance of the world, although he is not yet aware of history as the revelation of his human-divine nature.

V. at the stage of Religion, Spirit as the communal Self manifests itself in concrete teaching, institutions, stories, poetry, and art - all modes of divine self-contemplation. These modes capture absolute truth, but only in the guise of images and picture thinking.

VI. Absolute Knowing takes the pictorial content of Religion in its highest phase, the Manifest Religion of Christianity, and gives it a purely conceptual form. It transforms image into logic. Selfgood, as divine inwardness, is now completely transparent to itself, knows itself, as philosophic Science. To use a Christian term central to Hegel's tome, the Self now experiences reconciliation with the external world. Spirit is the reconciliation of self and world, subject and object, thought and action. In the condition of absolute knowing, man grasps himself as spirit. He knows that externality is essential to his inwardness, and that spirit, in order to be spirit, must be self-opposed. As Hegel says in his definition of spirit: 'spirit is the knowing of its own self in its externalization; the essence that is the movement of retaining the sameness with itself in its being other.'

At every point of transition between shapes of consciosuness, in spite of my attempt to make the transition seem persuasive, the reader must ask, 'but was that persuasive? Did Hegel offer a convincing argument for the move from this stage to the next, or is there a gap?'

Discontinuity is a crucial part of spirit's dialectical unfolding. By discontinuity I mean that one stsage gives rise to a genuinely new stage that has its own character, development, and problems. In dramatic terms, a new character comes on the stage.

The Phenomenology is not only the philosophic history of consciousness, it also embodies what Hegel called his 'voyage of discovery.' It is the book in which Hegel became Hegel and we are invited to share that personal journey, and to ask in what sense it is our journey as well.

Chapter II: Hegel's Introduction, What is Experience?

I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness. I take it in this condition, just as it is at the moment I give my attention to it. I do not portray being: I portray passing.
Montaigne, Of Repentance

Our questions for this section will be the following:

What do these terms mean: consciousness [BewuƟtsein] and experience [Erfahrung]?
Why does consciousness suffer the violence of refutation at its own hands?
How can this recurring pattern of violence lead to anything positive?
What is the logical method that will unmask the shapes of consciousness and bind them together in a continuous whole?
What makes consciousness tense or desirous - impelled from within to 'press forward to true knowledge?'

Paragraphs 73-75: Natural Consciousness Builds a Fence

To begin, we'll examine the commonly accepted notion that if we could analyze things thoroughly, then we would know them. Error, we believe, comes from fuzzy thinking, from the failure to properly distinguish and clearly identify all the elements of a complex whole. As Hegel will show, there are serious limits to this simple identification of truth with 'clarity and distinctness.'

Distinction making plays a central role in Hegel's conception of Science, it is the work of the understanding, Verstand. He calls it, 'the most astonishing and mightest of powers, or rather, the absolute power,' and links it with negativity and death. The divisiveness of the understanding keeps philosophy from slipping into mere edification.

Hegel asserts, 'Bereft of force, beauty hates the understanding for asking of her what she cannot do," that is, analyze and therefore kill that which beauty has lovingly produced.

Understanding, as the analytic moment of thought, is necessary to the dialectical process by which something loses its identity, becomes its opposite, and is then reconstituted as a higher, more concrete unity. [Possibly the source of line-struggle?] This process is summed up in Hegel's word Concept/Notion, or Begriff, which is the dialectical form of all truth and intelligibility.

In the opening of the Introduction, Hegel presents the preoccupation with distinctions and boundaries as the source of error, I shall call this error the epistemological attitude.

According to this attitude, philosophy must make a beginning by first examining human cognition as either instrument or medium, either that by which or that in which truth is grasped. This assumption Hegel calls a 'natural representation.'

The target of this polemic is Kant.

This epistemological attitude, grandly exhibited in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, draws a distinction between things as they are 'in themselves' and things as they appear 'for us.' Kant builds a fence between the thinking subject and the coveted object of knowledge - a 'boundary between cognition and the absolute.'

He then proceeds to examine what is on one side of the fence - namely, the thinking subject or cognition - in order to determine the mode of knowledge and the kind of object that suit the human subject.

The epistemological attitude seems to stem from wisdom, moderation, and a concern for what is just or legitimate, but the true origin, Hegel claims, is distrust and fear.

Although Kant is clearly the target of Hegel's opening salvo, the deeper object of his critique is natural consciousness. The journey depicted in the Phenomenology is 'the path of the natural consciousness as it presses forward to true knowledge.'

As noted in Chapter I, natural consciousness is consciousness in its philosophically uneducated, undeveloped condition, its state of nature. It is the realm of the familiar, which is not cognitively understood precisely because of its familiarity. Natural consciousness is 'healthy human understanding,' or sound common sense.

It is natural for consciousness to build a fence between subject and object, and to distinguish that which is 'in itself,' or objective, and that which is 'for us,' or subjective.

Hegel's critique of Kant shows that natural, uneducated thought is not limited to the man on the street [or the man masturbating in the agora].

Kant's project in the Critique of Pure Reason is the systematic inquiry into the radical conditions of human knowing. In spite of its impressive goal, Kant's system is governed by the natural: by something given to rather than generated from the thinking self. This given is the manifold of sense data, which the understanding (in Kant's use) unifies by means of concepts or categories.

Natural consciousness makes a necessary distinction but fails to go beyond it. It fails to think it through, or to use one of Hegel's favorite words, to mediate the distinction between subject and object.

This failure is due largely to the influence of representation generally - Vorstellung, which is the result of my placing something before myself.

Natural consciousness builds a fence because all its ideas are, or ultimately derive from, pictures in an imagined space.

Uneducated consciousness which has not yet risen to genuine thoughts, represents or pictures the thinking subject as 'over here' and the intended object 'over there.'

To bring in another crucial term in the Phenomenology that is influenced by spatial thinking, the object is made into a Jenseits, which in German refers to something on the other side of me - a Beyond.

The fence of consciousness leads to the natural representation of cognition as a tool or medium one 'uses' to 'get' to the truth.

This way of regarding cognition is closely related to the view that thinking, in order to reach the truth, must have recourse to a formal, artificially constructed method. The method of Descartes comes to mind [as does Spinoza].

Method driven thinking is an example of the formalism Hegel criticizes at length in the Preface.

What is wrong with this way of thinking?

For one thing, it implies the absurdity of even trying to grasp what is true in itself. If cognition were a tool, then, in order to get at the object itself, we would have to undo whatever the tool did to transform the object. But then we would have undone the tool's use and advantage.

Something similar happens in the case of a medium. A medium, though passive, has a certain power that allows it to function as a medium. Without that, it is not a medium.

A medium would therefore not be capable of receiving an object without doing something to the object.

Hegel puts this in terms of the modern theory of light. The cognitive medium has its 'law of refraction,' according to which the medium 'bends' what it receives. Subtract this and you subtract the ray of truth that enters the medium.

Tool thinking and medium thinking lead to the same result: the impossibility of knowing the truth. If to know means to use a tool, and to use a tool means to impose a structure, then the means by which we know is tragically at odds with knowledge.

The problem of knowledge is that of bridging the gap between subject and object, of mediating. It is the problem of getting the objective in-itself to be subjective or for us without its ceasing to be objective or true.

Tool thinking and medium thinking fail in their appointed task as mediators. Instead of bringing subject and object together, they perpetuate the chasm they were designed to bridge.

This way of proceeding, based on the familiar ways in which we represent things or 'place' them 'before' ourselves, is wrong in every conceivable way. It leads to the absurdty of tool and medium mentioned above.

Also, as we saw, in spite of the apparent sensibleness, even modesty, of building a fence between subject and object, the real motivators for Hegel, are the passions of fear and distrust.

This false modesty absolves us from engaging in 'the hard work of Science.' It leads to self-deception and sophistry.

In light of the supposed impossibility of reaching the absolute truth, the object as it is in itself, consciousness conveniently fabricates a non-absolute or relative truth in the form of an object that is not in itself but only for consciousness. This is the object Kant calls appearance, as opposed to the unknowable thing-in-itself.

The invention of a relative truth only obscures the meaning of the terms truth and knowledge.

Further questions:

How can truth be only 'for me' or 'for us' and still deserve the name of truth?
Will I say that I know absolutely that this sort of truth is only relative?
How do I know that it is only relative? Perhaps it is really the absolute revealing itself to me and I am mistaken in calling it relative.
Can I know that this truth is only relative without having access to the truth that is not relative?
How can I know that X is not Y unless I know both X and Y?
Where did this distinction, this fence, between cognition and the absolute come from in the first place? Was it not posited by consciousness itself?

Paragraphs 76-78: Apparent Knowing

Hegel has a blunt answer to the evasions of the epistemological attitude: the evasions vanish as soon as genuine knowledge or Science comes on the scene.

But precisely because Science 'comes on the scene,' it is itself no more than the mere appearance of knowing. It is 'not yet Science in its developed and unfolded truth.' Science must liberate itself from this mere appearance or doubt and prove that it is Science. This task falls to the Phenomenology of Spirit.

For Hegel, natural consciousness is dynamic, or inwardly tense. It is more than a cave or dark wood, a passive state which some external agent must deliver us. Natural consciousness has a drive to prove itself, a desire to know absolutely. It is, one might say, pregnant with its history.

Desire propels consciousness to go beyond its state of nature. The Phenomenology traces 'the path of the natural consciousness that presses forward to true knowledge.'

Hegel stresses the radical negativity of this path. The path by which natural consciousness is educated is no mere path of Cartesion doubt but a Way of Despair. And the shapes that consciousness takes on in the course of its journey are, as we've seen, like Stations of the Cross.

It is no use following the Polonius-like advice of the Enlightenment: 'Think for yourself, and have the courage of your convictions - to thine own self be true!'

Why should my ideas, just because they are mine, be any less faulty than those that come from other people? Hegel leaves no room for such self-serving authenticity and calls it conceit.

All natural ideas, all the undeveloped, taken-for-granted notions that spring from what is familiar and 'homey,' must be refuted, regardless of whose ideas they are.

If consciousness is to achieve its goal of absolute knowing, it must come to experience the sheer nothingness of everything that is familiar and natural. It must become a stranger in its own land in order to dwell, at last, in the kingdom of truth.

Paragraphs 79-80: The Nothing that is Something

It is one thing to become aware of falsehood, another to grasp truth.

Disenchantment or skepticism is not knowledge. The negativity of experience that Hegel has described so far would not lead anywhere, certainly not to Science, unless something positive came out of it. There must be some way out of despair.

Here, we tough on Hegel's most original idea. It is the idea that negation is positive because it has content, or preserves what it negates.

As Hegel puts it, negation is 'specifically the nothingness of that from which it results.' The term for this idea, which Hegel first mentions in the Preface, is determinate negation.

Determinate negation is why spirit is Phoenix-like, why the death of one shape of knowing is the birth of another.

Determinate negation is at the root of Hegel's most important term: Aufhebung.

Translations of this term include sublation and supersession.

Aufhebung comes from the verb aufheben, which has the exactly opposite meanings of preserve and abolish or cancel out. It also means lift up. It is roughly what we mean in English when we 'set something aside,' where that which is set aside is lifted up in the sense of being given special treatment.

Hegel's view of negation contains these three meanings of the term. A thing is sublated, aufgehoben, when it is cancelled, preserved, and lifted up. Hegel will call these three phases moments.

Sublation is the full expression of what it means for something to be determinately, and therefore completely, negated.

Ordinary language, whose waywardness Hegel loves, seems to capture sublation in nay-saying moments like the following, 'last night's music was beautiful- no, it was sublime!' The 'no' here both cancels the previous statement and lifts it to a higher level.

Hegel's brief discussion of determinate negation occurs within his account of the radical negativity required for true education. The path of natural consciousness is one negation or 'death' after another, but unlike a Platonic dialogue, this negation is not Socrates-induced but self-induced.

The series of self-refutations has a logical order. A shape does not merely follow its predecessor but is generated out of it. The reason lies in the logical structure of negation: 'this nothingness [the demonstrated nothingness of a given shape of consciousness] is specifically the nothingness of that from which it results.'

Logical order, in other words, comes from negation, which generates a new specific something. Negation is not an explosion that annihilates what was once a stable structure (which is how natural consciousnes represents negation.) On the contrary, it is like organic growth, in which a flower's blossom may be said to refute and supplant the bud.

Determinate negation is not only at work in the process of transition. It is also the guarantor of completeness: 'the necessary progression and interconnection of the forms of unreal consciousness will of itself bring about the completion of the series.'

Because of the nothing that is something - the logical engine of the whole Phenomenology - there is not only a rising up of successive shapes but also a culminating shape that completes the series as its goal. This is what Hegel calls absolute knowing.

In summary, natural consciousness, thanks to the work of determinate negation, does the following:

It generates various shapes or claims to know.
It generates them in a given order and
It is destined, through an inner necessitation, to reach an end, where 'the goal is as necessarily fixed for knowledge as the serial progression.'
This last reminds us of Hegel's definition of reason, Vernunft, as 'goal-directed activity.'

Paradoxically, the thought of inevitable completion leads Hegel to his most lurid depiction of suffering in the whole Introduction. Having drawn attention to the necessity of self-completion, Hegel must explain why consciousness is impelled, driven to its goal.

We would not search for gratification if we did not experience desire.

For Hegel, desire is a profound unhappiness or anxiety. Hegel's task is to explain how this anxiety impels consciousness to its destined goal: how absolute knowing comes from the unhappiness of desire.

His depiction of unhappiness provides the context for a question raised at the beginning of this chapter: why does consciousness suffer the violence of refutation at its own hands?

To follow Hegel's meaning, we must distinguish consciousness generally from the finite shapes of consciousness. The various shapes and stages of consciousness, the various 'characters' of the Phenomenology, must be seen in the light of the overall dialectic of consciousness that animates these shapes.

Consciousness is not confined to a single shape. The finite shapes, like ordinary natural entities, are mortal because they cannot transcend themselves.

But consciousness in general, the consciousness of which the shapes are shapes, goes beyond itself. In order to dramatize what this means, Hegel ranges over the whole extent of spirit's journey.

Consciousness 'is explicitly or for itself the concept of itself.'

In other words, it thinks its own thinking. It is both aware of its object and aware of itself as a mode of knowing that object.

Consciousness implies self-consciousness.

Consciousness is always outside of itself looking at itself looking. It cannot be otherwise, since consciousness is my consciousness.

Consciousness then, 'is something that immediately goes out of the limited, and since the limited belongs to it, it is something that goes out of itself.' What Hegel is describing here is the dynamic of unrest. It is his first formulation of a logic of desire.

Consciousness is aware of its instability and of the inadequacy of its claims, aware that it is on the move. It feels the constraint of its finite shapes and the remoteness of its posited objects.

To use a term that will be crucial at a later point, consciousness knows itself as overreaching all its finite objects. This overreaching or infinity is self-consciousness.

At this point, Hegel launches into the tale of passion that spells out the love-hate relation consciousness has with the absolute, and with itself.

Consciousness spoils its satisfaction because it cannot be aware of anything without being aware of its desire for more, for the absolute.

It feels the finitude of self-negativity of the finite, a sort of death. And so it grows anxious and fearful of positing anything. It tries not to think, but its trying is a thinking, so its anxiety is perpetuated. Then it tries to console itself with the bromide that everything is 'good in its kind,' but reason comes along and exposes this view as an attempt to glorify the vulgar and cheap.

Another ruse is that in its unhappiness and fear of truth, consciousness assumes the posture of the ardent Lover of Truth, who prides himself on knowing that all is vanity and that it is impossible to know the truth.

Upon this self-proclaimed lover of truth who knows how to 'belittle every truth' in a frenzy of conceit, Hegel lavishes his most searing rhetoric.

This tale of passion and evasion springs from the fear that consciousness has of its limitation or finitude.

Consciousness does not experience its self-transcendence, its necessary 'going beyond itself,' as a determinte negation. In existential terms, man, for Hegel, fears the truth because he fears the mortality of all finite perspectives on the truth. He fears death.

The Phenomenology of Spirit is largely devoted to analyzing, and eventually overcoming this fear.

In absolute knowing, the philosopher grasps the connection between eternal truth and death. He is reconciled to time.

Viewed in this way, the Phenomenology is a response to the problems taken up in Plato's Phaedo. It is Hegel's version of why philosophy, as Socrates says, is 'the care of death.'

Paragraphs 81-89: Experience as the Testing of Consciousness

Hegel now turns to the most important part of his Introduction, 'the method of carrying on the inquiry.' He tells us more precisely what consciousness is, and what it means for consciousness to become educated through a process of self-testing.

For Plato and Aristotle, the problem of knowledge is that of uniting thinking and being. Hegel puts the problem in terms of concept [Begriff] and object [Gegenstand]. Concept is that which is intellectually grasped, and object is that which stands over and against consciousness.

The goal of consciousness is 'the point where knowledge no longer needs to go beyond itself, where knowledge finds itself, where concept corresponds to object and object to concept.' To reach this goal, consciousness inflicts disillusionment on itself by confronting the nothingness of its natural shapes. It must test itself, and fail the test over and over again.

But how is consciousness to do this before it has genuine knowledge? Every test has a criterion by which something is determined as either right or wrong. How can consciousness use a criterion without presupposing the knowledge that consciousness does not yet have, the knowledge that is precisely the result of the test?

To answer this question, Hegel reveals the structure of consciousness: 'Consciousness simultaneously distinguishes itself from something, and at the same time relates itself to it, or, as it is said, this something exists for consciousness; and the determinate aspect of this relating, or the being of something for a consciousness, is knowing.'

This is the key sentence in the Introduction. From it, Hegel draws a number of important conclusions.

The definition of consciousness transforms the fence that divides subject and object into a relating of subject to object. Consciousness does not simply await the arrival of objects. It does something, name, the work of relating.

Strictly speaking, the subject does not 'have' a relation with the object but actively relates itself to the object. In a sense, it goes beyond itself to meet the object, all the while staying within itself.

The relating here has two aspects. On the one hand, consciousness distinguishes itself from the object; on the other, it 'directs itself' to this object.

Because consciousness is this relation to object, awareness is always the awareness of something. It is never without content. It is this determinate aspect of the relation of subject to object that allows me to say that in being aware of an object, I know it.

The structure of consciousness obliges the object to take on a double life. The object is both 'in itself,' other than consciousness and 'for consciousness.' The object is for me something other than me.

The double life of object is signaled by Hegel's emphasis on the word being in the definition of consciousness quoted above.

Hegel goes on to say, 'whatever is related to knowledge or knowing is also distinguished from it, and posited as also being outside of this relation; this aspect of the in-itself is called truth.' Simply put, I am aware of the external world as something real or genuinely other than me.

At this point, a skeptic might object by saying that what Hegel is calling an object 'in itself' is only an object for us. But this imposes a theory on the object and raises the problems noted earlier, especially the problem of how we can know that the object is only for us without having some access to the object as it is in itself.

Hegel takes the object more seriously, he does so because consciousness does. His strategy is to enter into the structure of consciousness itself, not to impose a theory on it, but faithfully report what consciousness intends as object.

This intended object is other than consciousness, an object that is both something in itself and something for us. Strange to say, Hegel's convoluted language comes from his effort to be simple and unobstrusive. Philosophic simplicity, however, tends to be complicated.

Phenomenology is the critical examination of apparent knowing. Apparent, here, means both illusory and historically manifest.

In the Phenomenology, knowledge is our object. Ultimately, we want to know what knowledge is in truth or in itself. But knowledge, in addition to being our object, is also our object. It is 'for us.'

For the phenomenologist, consciousness thus participates in the double life of all objects of consciousness. If knowledge is our object, if it is 'for us,' then the criterion for testing consciousness must, it seem, come from us.

But then it would not be the criterion of knowledge we are investigating, the criterion it sets for itself. How are we to overcome this difficulty?

Earlier, I asked where the fence of consciousness, the distinction between subject and object, came from. Hegel's answer is, from consciousness itself, 'consciousness provides its own criterion from within itself, so that the investigation becomes a comparison of consciousness with itself; for the distinction made above falls within it.'

The distinction between consciousness and its object, and between what is 'for us' and what is 'in itself,' is posited by consciousness and therefore within consciousness. To use Fichte's terms, it is the I that distinguishes between the I and the not-I, between subject and object.

Consciousness is a relation with two sides or aspects - the conscious subject and the object.

Relation, here, is not a 'third something' stuck between the poles of subject and object, but the relation itself, or rather the subject's act of relating.

Picture thinking cannot help us grasp this, since we would have to picture a part that was also the whole.

We must instead make an effort to think relation. This effort will become even more important, and more difficult, when we take up the logical structure of self-consciousness.

The testing of consciousness and its claims to know is unlike the testing or measuring of anything else. The reason is that consciousness has its own unique structure: the relating and distinguishing of subject and object. As that which posits specific claims to know, consciousness contains its own measuring stick, its own mark of success or failure.

Hegel emphasizes that the two moments - concept and object, being-for-another and being-in-itself - 'both fall within that knowledge which we are investigating,' and that the comparison between the two, the comparison that will determine whether object and concept correspond to one another, is undertaken by consciousness itself. Indeed, 'this consciousness is itself their comparison.'

From this, Hegel draws an important conclusion: the phenomenologist is only an observer. It is not his job to judge whether consciousness (as a determinate claim to know) measures up to his criteria or 'bright ideas.' He must instead limit himself to 'pure on-looking.'

The phenomenological observer 'looks on,' as a determinate shape of consciousness compares its mode of knowing with what it regards as the object in itself: 'Something is for it the in-itself; and knowledge, or the being of the object for consciousness, is for it another moment.'

We can now answer the question that is the title of this chapter: what is experience?

Experience, Erfahrung, is the process of self-examination by which consciousness learns, through suffering contradiction, that a determinate claim to know is finite and illusory.

The traditional definition of truth is the adequation or correspondence between subject and object, thought and thing. Consciousness suffers the lack of this correspondence, and consequently the lack of truth, as a disharmony between concept (the mode of knowing) and object (that which is for it the in-itself).

It suffers this lack - or violence - at its own hands. It is driven to establish the correspondence because that is what consciousness implicitly is: the correspondence of object and concept.

Once consciousness discovers the lack of correspondence between concept and object at any particular stage of its development, it finds fault with its mode of knowing and 'alters its knowledge to conform to the object.' But the object, too, undergoes a transformation.

This recalls the structure of consciousness, which is a determinate relating of subject to object.

Consequently, 'as the knowledge changes, so too does the object, for it essentially belonged to this knowledge.' In this process, consciousness, which posits an in-itself or truth distinct from itself, comes to learn that this in-itself is not a genuine in-itself at all, that it is 'only an in-itself for consciousness.

This can be stated more simply: consciousness discovers that its claim to absolute knowing is false, that its 'knowing' was only perspectival or relative.

But it also realizes that its finite object is only relative - relative, that is, to its finite, deficient mode of knowing.

The objectivity of the object dissolves into mere subjectivity, or, as Hegel puts it, the object 'sinks for consciousness to the level of its way of knowing it.' The object, in other words, becomes a mere concept or thought of an object.

To use our own picture thinking here, consciousness tries to get outside itself and reach the object, but in the course of experience falls right back inside itself again.

We first witness this origination [Entstehung] of the new object in the transition from sense-certainty to perception.

For sense-certainty, the truth is the sheer immediate presence of reality as an infinite set of particulars or thises.

The This is not yet a Thing, since, for sense-certainty, there is no order whatsoever in the infinite sea of thises (everything and anything counts as a This).

As sense-certainty tries to sustain the pure particular, the atomic particular broadens into a band of particulars - a universal. It becomes its opposite.

But there is a name for a sensuous particular that also shares in universality: 'thing.' The thing with its many properties is the new object that arises out of the experience of sense-certainty.

The thing, the object of perception, is a mediated This. It preserves the sensuous particularity of the preceding This but incorporates universals into its structure in the form of universal or shared properties, such as color, shape, etc.

What we have seen so far is summed up in Hegel's definition of experienc, 'inasmuch as the new true object springs from it, this dialectical movement which consciousness exercises on itself and which affects both its knowledge and its object, is precisely what we call experience.'

The object, along with the subject, has been altered in this course of this process, 'this new object contains the nothingness of the first, it is what experience has made of it.' Experience, in other words, as determinate negation, is a form of work.

Dialectical experience differs from ordinary experience. In the latter, misidentifying an object does not automatically give rise to a new object.

The ordinary experience of mistaking, unlike the dialectical experience of consciousness, is non-generative: I learn only that I mistook. The contrast brings out what is most remarkable in experience as Hegel defines it, 'the new object shows itself to have come about through a reversal of consciousness itself.'

The most fundamental distinction in Hegel's book, after that between subject and object, is the distinction between the perspective of consciousness and that of the phenomenological observer.

What does consciousness 'see'? And what do we alone 'see,' we who are engaged in pure onlooking?

Experience, for Hegel, is ultimately not passive but productive. It generates a new mode of knowing and a new object - a whole new shape of consciousness that results from the reversal of a cognitive stance. Hegel sometimes calls this reversal a Verkehrung, or inversion.

He observes, 'this way of looking at the matter is something contributed by us, by means of which the succession of experiences through which consciousness passes is raised into a scientific progression, but it is not known to the consciousness that we are observing.'

The phenomenological observer sees what is going on 'behind the back of consciousness.' He sees what consciousness does not: the logical necessity in the movement and the becoming, that is, in the process by which the reversal of consciousness gives rise to a new object.

It is this vision of necessity that transforms the Way of Despair into 'the Science of the experience of consciousness.'

As we have seen, Hegel distinguishes experience in his sense of the term from ordinary experience. The former is a determinate negation. But the dialectic of consciousness has this in common with ordinary consciousness: consciousness is not aware that its suffering is the work by which a new object is produced.

For it, experience is simply the ordinary experience of mistaking, except that it is more painful, its whole world of knowing crumbles in its hands, and there is no second object anywhere to be found.

I have referred several times to the passage in which Hegel speaks of natural consciousness is 'pressing forward' to true knowledge. We are now in a position to say more precisely what this means, and in what sense consciousness itself, not just the individual reader of the Phenomenology, is educated.

A perplexity arises when we consider the limited perspective of consciousness. How can consciousness learn or 'press forward' if it does not see what is going on behind its back, if it does not grasp 'the origination of the new object'? Is this not tantamount to saying that it cannot make sense of its own experience and therefore cannot learn? How can consciousness, under these circumstances, be on a path at all?

We must observe here that consciousness in its universal meaning must not be confused with its individual finite shapes. It is the former that undergoes the transition from one shape to the next.

As we saw in our discussion of negation, consciousness, as the concept of itself, is not confined to its finite shapes. It is restless because it constantly senses, or divines, the finitude of these shapes. But an individual shape is not aware of the transition from one shape to another. It cannot leap outside of itself.

It is true that experience generates a new object, but consciousness is not aware that this has happened.

The positive result of suffering (the determinate negation) is implicit for it and explicit only for the phenomenological observer. That is why learning, for consciousness, is a Way of Despair. For it, the result of its experience of every one of its natural shapes is nothing but contradiction and failure, a purely negative dialectic.

Consciousness learns, in other words, by exhausting itself, by experience the finitude of its natural shapes and thereby coming to despair of all things natural. Consciousness does not 'take its pulse' along the way.

Sense-certainty, for example, does not have an epiphany and turn into perception. Nor does perception say to itself, 'well, I may not be at the end, but at least I'm farther along than sense-certainty.' It does not remember where it has been, and so does not experience itself as being on a path.

The path is only evident from the perspective of the philosophic observer - only from the standpoint of absolute knowing. In perception knew that it was only a stage on the way to true knowing, it would not be perception, since perception claims, erroneously, to be absolute knowing.

Spirit, as consciousness or the opposition between subject and object, spills out into time, all in a rage to know itself. The result is a colorful array of finite shapes of consciousness, spread out all over history in different times and places.

There is an implicit order in this dappled robe of time, a figure in the carpet: some shapes are more reflective, higher, and more complex, than others. But spirit does not see this figure, not yet.

First, the spill, then the gathering. First, the going forth, then the turn within.

The spill of positings (which Hegel calls a kenosis or emptying) is driven by spirit's desire to know itself in the act of revealing itself, making itself present to itself in history.

Consciousness presses forward to true knowledge, but only at the end can the manifold shapes of knowing be unified to form a path.

To know absolutely is to know how to look back or 'recollect.' It is to know, not only the result, philosophy in the form of Science [or Marxism in the form of Maoism], and all the previous stages that led to this result, but also the logical process that made all the stages cohere with one another and with their end. Spirit cannot know itself until it is capable of thinking the logic of determinate negation that is at work within its own historical unfolding.

As we have seen, consciousness is the opposition of subject and object. It is always a two or dyad. To be aware is to be aware of an other: the object as the other my thinking. This otherness haunts the entire journey of spirit.

At every stage, there is something external to the self and to thinking - a something 'out there' - that sets a limit to the self's claim to absolutelness, the claim that truth is subject.

Out-there-ness is not limited to spatial relations. A thing is 'out there' if it remains undigested by the work of dialectic, if it is not thought through or mediated.

The apple is an 'out there.' But so are innate ideas, first principles, the categorical imperative, and a transcendent God.

The first large stage of spirit is called Consciousness (sense-certainty, perception, understanding) because spirit at this stage is preoccupied with non-thinking objects. Self-consciousness has not yet come on the scene.

But thoughout its entire journey, spirit is 'burdened' with the otherness inherent in consciousness, the subject-object opposition. That is why the journey of spirit in the Phenomenology is, more properly, the journey of consciousness.

The adjective 'natural' reminds us that consciousness, the cave-like attitude of pre-philosophic thought, must be purged of its limited vision and its tendency to identify the truth with what is familiar, self-evident, and therefore dialectically undeveloped - in a word, the given.

At the culminating stage of absolute knowing, the subject-object opposition is dissolved. It is replaced by the unity of pure thinking, which communes only with itself and at the same expresses all that is. It is subject that knows itself as the enduring substance of all things.

Absolute knowing, to recall the saying of Parmenides, is the stage at which being and thinking are the same. The flowering of this thinking is the Science of Logic, the Olympian peak to which the Phenomenology provides a ladder.

We now embark on the journey of consciousness, as it moves through its various shapes. At each level, consciousness will begin with certainty and end with truth. Experience will be the thread that connects them.


Chapter III: Sense-Certainty, of Mere Being

The leaves cry. It is not a cry of divine attention, nor the smoke-drift of puffed-out heroes, nor human cry. It is the leaves that do not transcend themselves...
Wallace Stevens, The Course of a Particular

The journey of consciousness begins with the most basic mode of knowing, sense-certainty.

What does 'begin' mean here? It means that Hegel, who already sees things from the divine perspective of absolute knowing and knows how the journey ends, has surveyed all the modes of knowing that have appeared in time, and finds that this one, logically, must come first.

Sense-certainty is not a psychological event but a claim to know. A personified mode of universality, it claims that the knowledge of absolute truth is the immediate intuition of the sensuous This, the Here-and-Now.

In this 'world' of knowing, there are no things with properties, only radical particulars, details without a whole to which they belong.

Since sense-certainty uses languages (up to a point), names for things will enter the discussion, but they refer only to instances of the un-nameable This.

For sense-certainty, there is no kind-character, no coming-to-be, no causes or effects, no relations, no hierarchies, no ordered whole, no things with properties. Nor is the particular an appearance of some deeper essence. There is only the world as an endless repository of instances.

Sense-certainty's claim is that things are, not what, why, or how they are. For sense-certainty, the absolute is simple presence, 'only the being of the thing.'

What is attractive about this claim to know? We should ask this question at every stage of the journey, since in order to know a shape of consciousness we must 'get inside its character' and perform a sort of philosophic mimesis by imagining what it would mean to be in this shape.

Sense-certainty appears to be the richest kind of knowledge, for which the world is unbounded and infinitely detailed. It also seems to be the truest knowledge because it lets the world in all its unprocessed glory simply be, without the trammels of theory and thinking.

It might seem that the sort of person who finds this view attractive is limited or naive, and cannot think of anything more intelligent to claim about reality. But we can also imagine a cultured human being, who is disenchanted with reason and seeks refuge in the anti-universal, anti-discursive realm of pure Thises.

Whether Man on the Street or Disenchanted Thinker, sense-certainty must think away the world as it is ordinarily experienced. It must deny that apples are not just Thises but fruits of a certain kind endowed with certain properties.

Sense-certainty is first because it is the most immediate, most unthought-through of all cognitive stances. For sense-certainty, the world is an infinitely diverse given.

At the beginning of the chapter, Hegel warns us not to impose our bright ideas on sense-certainty, we must refrain from conceptually grasping, which would falsify the very phenomenon we want to observe.

In the course of Hegel's chapter, sense-certainty will undergo mediation, it will be thought through and logically developed. Immediacy will start to 'leak' and give rise to process.

The dialectic at work here is not a phenomenological method that we apply to sense-certainty, but rather the logical structure that is sense-certainty.

It cannot be emphasized enough that dialectic, here, is not one of the cognitive tools Hegel criticized in his Introduction but the rational soul of things as they are. In spite of the static, architectural associations of the word, structure, for Hegel, is fluid.

It is the spontaneous process of logical unfolding through an ordered series of interconnected negations (like organic growth).

Form is a self forming movement.

The truth of sense-certainty cannot be summed up in a proposition, it reveals itself only in the entire process of logical evolution.

Hegel makes this all-important point later in the chapter by referring to history, 'it is clear that the dialectic of sense-certainty is nothing else but the simple history of its movement or of its experience, and sense-certainty is nothing else but just this history.'

What is true of sense-certainty holds for all the shapes of consciousness.

Their nature is not a static Platonic Form that transcends speech and is accessible only to intellectual intuition, but a logical motion fully manifested in speech.

The logos or logic of a mode of knowing is that mode's being or nature, and being manifests itself as movement, Bewegung. Logos (or intelligibility), being, and motion are all the same. Logos is not about being but rather is the self-manifestation of being as it relates itself to itself, as it makes itself other than itself in order to fully be itself.

This unity of logos, being, and motion is what makes Hegel, Hegel.

Now we turn to the dialectic of sense-certainty.

A claim to know is just that, a mere claim. This constitutes certainty. A given shape of consciousness seeks to transform this certainty into truth, to make its subjective 'yes' objective or manifest to itself.

In the course of entering into its own position (the process of experience), sense-certainty will undercut itself. The more it affirms its cognitive stance the more the radical particular - the singular This - will change into its opposite, the universal.

The magical transformation of the particular into the universal can be summed up in the innocuous seeming word 'this.' The word is intended to reach the non-linguistic particular, this as opposed to everything else in the world, but in fact refers to any particular whatsoever.

There is also an immediacy of subject involved in this claim to know.

Just as the It, for sense-certainty, is a radical particular, so too is the 'I'. The I, like the It, has no properties as such. It contains no seperate faculties, no 'manifold imagining or thinking.' This consciousness 'is I, nothing more, a pure This.'

The dialectic of sense-certainty has three stages. These correspond to the three ways in which the I interprets its relation to the object.

Sense-certainty, in spite of its immediacy, draws a distinction (in the first two stages) between what is essential and what is non-essential in this relation.

In the first stage, the object is essential: it is and is true, whether there is a subject there or not. When this fails, sense-certainty shifts its ground and makes the subject essential: the I abides and is, and various thises come and go. This second stage also fails.

Finally, in the third stage, sense-certainty glues the subject and object together in a singular act of intuiting, an always immediate and self-contained subject-object module, such that the sensing subject never compares a past with a present This, or a past with a present I, but lives in an infinitely repeatable Here-and-Now.

These three stages correspond, respectively, to three logical relations:

in itself [an sich]
for itself [fur sich]
in and for itself [an und fur sich]

This sequence of relations will recur throughout the journey of consciousness.

The in-itself stage is objective, that is, oriented toward an object taken as absolute. It comes first because it expresses a potential or immediacy that has not yet been mediated or thought through. The object is simply there. It is not posited as the result of positing. It is not yet explicitly related to the subject. [Kind of like my copy of the Phenomenology of Spirit]

The for-itself stage is subjective. Here, the self posits the object, puts it forth, as a result of the self's positing. The object is explicitly an object for consciousness.

The in-and-for-itself stage expresses the unity of subject and object. It is the stage at which something is logically complete.

At each of its stages, sense-certainty suffers contradiction, the particular shows itself to be in truth universal, and the immediate shows itself to be mediated, that is, a process. By the end, sense-certainty is logically exhausted, thoroughly thought through, and its claim to know is unmasked as illusory. We enter into the experience of sense-certainty and share the negativity of the experience.

But we see what sense-certainty does not, the transition to the next shape of consciousness, and to the second object Hegel talked about in the Introduction.

The chapter ends with an I, not the I of sense-certainty, but the I of the phenomenological observer. It is for this I that perception emerges as mediated sense-certainty, and the thing with many properties as the mediated sensuous This.

We now proceed to the 'history' of sense-certainty, that is, to the dialectical process of being sensuously certain of an object.

Sense-certainty claims to be immediate, a Here-and-Now is immediately present to an I-right-now. But in every act of sense-certainty, the immediacy of the act 'splits up' into two Thises - a subject and an object. In other words, the immediacy here is not so immediate that the subject simply disappears into the object.

The subject persists as the being that says, 'I am certain of this.' The subject does not say to itself, 'ah, certainty!' This would express a subjective state, not a claim to truth. It says rather, 'I am certain of This because it is immediately present to me.'

At this first stage of experience, the object is essential and the subject non-essential, where essential means, 'where the truth is coming from.' The subject is mediated, it has certainty only through the immediate object, to which it is directed.

The test focuses, at this stage, on the object. Does this object measure up to what sense-certainty claims? Is it really immediate? Experience will decide.

Paragraphs 95-99: First Stage - The Object is Essential

The This has two aspects, a Here and a Now. Hegel examines them separately.

First, he takes up the Now. The Now is the existential right now, at this very moment. We enter the stance of sense-certainty, look at the Now through its eyes, and ask ourselves, 'What is the Now?' We answer, 'The Now is Night.' Hegel then exhorts us to write down this truth, impishly adding, 'a truth cannot lose anything by being written down.'

The next day, when noon comes around, yesterday's question, 'what is the Now?' gets a different answer, 'Now is Day.' The reason is that Now means only the particular Now, the Moment. Only the Moment can be true because it alone counts as presence or being. The written truth of yesterday has thus become 'stale.' Day has supplanted Night. It has done so within the structure of the Now.

The problem here is that the particular Now is empty and refers, indifferently, to both Night and Day. The whole point of sense-certainty is to 'live,' cognitively speaking, in the moment. But how am I to 'live' in the moment when one particular moment is no different from another?

The second Now, Day, does not just replace the first Now, Night: the same Now is first Night, then Day. This Now that is both Hegel calls a 'self-preserving Now.' It is neither Night nor Day but that which can be both. But something that remains what it is as it ranges over its instances is what we call a universal.

'Triangle' is not that triangle on the blackboard or this one on the page of my geometry book. Triangle as universal remains itself, and is fully present, in both instances. And yet, it is not either of them: it is, indifferently, this one or that.

Hegel calls the Now a not-This to signal that a universal cannot be pinned down in a particular instance. It is, he says, 'a negative in general.'

Few of us would define universality as negation, but Hegel has a point. I cannot think a universal without thinking it as something that transcends and therefore negates its particular instances. A universal is a not-This, where This is a particular.

In the very first section of the Phenomenology, Hegel shows us the birth of the universal out of the particular, universality is the self-negation of the particular. We are witnessing sensuousness on its way to thought.

Night cannot sustain itself as an enduring Now, nor can Day. The Now that sense-certainty means to get at cannot sustain itself as something immediate but is subject to a process.

The Now that can sustain itself as always Now is the mediated Now, Now that is a universal or a not-This. And so, the truth of sense-certainty, in one aspect of the This (the Now), is shown, through experience, to be the opposite of the initial certainty.

Hegel reminds us, as he does repeatedly in the Phenomenology, that language is on the side of the dialectic. We mean the radical particular but we say the universal. Language, here, 'is the more truthful.'

The dialectic of the Now required that we compare one act of sensuous intuiting with another. That was the point of writing down the first truth. Without the act of comparing, universality would not arise in consciousness.

Language is the more truthful because, unlike sense-certainty, it lets universality, fluidity, and negation be. Language turns the tables on sense-certainty by revealing that the purported letting be of sense-certainty is in fact a not letting be.

The truth of the Now is that it negates itself. To grasp the Here, we enter sense-certainty once more and follow its experience of the This.

The Here is a tree. But then I turn around and, lo, the Here, which was supposed to be immediately true, turns into a house! It does so because the intended Here is indifferent to content.

The Here does not vanish when a particular content vanishes. It abides and can indifferently accommodate a tree and a house because it is neither of them. The true Here is thus not the one sense-certainty means but, 'a mediated simplicity, or a universality.'

Experience shows that the truth of the Here, like that of Now, is process, I cannot experience Here without experiencing it as becoming a There, or a Now without experiencing it as becoming a Then. It is not immediacy that abides, but process and transition.

Paragraphs 100-102: Second Stage - The Subject is Essential

The result of the foregoing is that the objective This cannot be immediate, as sense-certainty had claimed. Its concept and object fail to correspond.

Since the object has been experienced as non-immediate and self-negating, the certainty must lie at the other pole of consciousness, the subject. At this second stage, the subject-object relation is reversed and the knowing is made essential. The truth now comes from the object's being my object, objective Thises come and go, but my sensing is always there to greet them.

It is important at this second stage to keep in mind that the I is meant to be a radical particular, a singular I that lives only in the immediacy of the moment.

I means, I-right-here-and-now. Sense-certainty wants nothing to do with a universal I (a We), or with an I that has a personal history (or process of becoming). Its positing of immediacy precludes continuity. That is why sense-certainty, at this second stage, will fail.

Now is Night because I see it. Now is Day because I see it. Here is a tree because I see it. Here is a house because I see it. I carry with me my very own personal Here-and-Now-ifier, and so am no longer bothered by Night becoming Day, or Tree becoming House. Let them vanish, I abide!

Now is the Now of my seeing. Here is the Here to which I direct my attention.

But who is the I in the shift from Night to Day, and from Tree to House? It can not be the same I for both these seeings, since I must be the radically particular I, the I-right-now. It must be one I that sees Night and Tree, and another I that sees Day and House.

Sense-certainty, through experience, thus generates an infinite series of I's, one for each moment of particular seeing.

But there is unmistakably an I that endures in this self-othering, since the I compares one seeing with another and realizes that what it has is a constantly vanishing 'truth.' The I is not an amnesiac.

Like the objective This, the I, or sensing subject has become a universal through comparison.

The word 'this' refers to anything and everything. So too, the word 'I' refers to any and every I. Hegel is not playing a language game here. He is observing that language seconds what the dialectic of experience has revealed all on its own, that radical particularly is self-negating, or becomes its opposite.

Paragraphs 103-109; Third Stage - The Dialectic of Pointing

The third and final stage of sense-certainty is the most complex of its attempts to prove itself in the arena of experience.

Before taking up this stage, let us note the sequence of the first two stages. First, the object is made essential, then the subject.

It makes sense that the first candidate for essentialness is the object. The reason is that sense-certainty, as a shape of consciousness, is always directed toward something other than itself. Te positing of an essential subject arises in response to the failure of the essential object, only when sense-certainty has been 'expelled from the object' and 'driven back into the I.'

Subjectivity is a reflex action. I turn toward myself by turning away from external objects.

We who have entered sense-certainty's labyrinth now 'posit the whole relation of sense-certainty as its essence.' By doing so, we seek to avoid the previous two undercuttings, in which I and It turned into universals.

I and It are now glued together in an immediate relation of intuiting, in which 'I do not compare Here and Now themselves with one another, but stick firmly to one immediate relation: the Now is day.'

Having been recently burned by my experience with comparisons, I will have no more to do with them. I refuse to step outside the immediate singularity of my relation-to-object. The relation is that of a radically particular I-right-now that is always and only immediately related to a This-Now-Here. 'At last,' our cognitive romantic consoles himself, 'I can live in the moment.'

The goal here is to avoid process (that is, mediation) and language once and for all.

It is to transform the shifts of time and place into a constantly reiterated self-sameness, while avoiding the transformation of either subject or object into a universal. That transformation, we recall, was the result of the act of comparing, but now I forswear all comparisons.

As a sensuously certain subject, I enter time, but I claim to experience time as a Now always repeating itself. I live each incomparable moment fully by denying time as process.

Each Now is a unique moment of intuiting in which subject and object are united in a Here-and-Now that is never other than itself. I no longer say 'Now' and 'Then,' or 'Here' and 'There.' I say only, or rather point, for my claim prohibits speech, 'Now,' 'Now,' 'Now,' and 'Here,' 'Here,' 'Here.'

In this way, through a sort of enforced amnesia, I am always the particular I, and the object is always a particular Here-and-Now that never becomes a There-and-Then. By confining myself to the subject-object module, I hope to experience pure immediate presence, which is the soul of my claim that sense-certainty is absolute truth.

This is the most difficult part of Hegel's account. The logic of the third stage will, in effect, uncover the dialectical structure of time, time as pure process.

The third stage will show how process and transition into an opposite arise, not in the comparison of one Now and Here with another but within what sense-certainty takes to be an immediate relating of I and It. Immediate presence will become passage.

Once again, the very effort to hold on to the particular as such will transform it into a universal: dialectic is also irony.

The universal arises here from the act of pointing, Zeigen.

Pointing to a Here-and-Now seems simple enough. It is an especially good idea if I want to avoid language, which oozes universality.

The whole refutation of sense-certainty at this third stage consists in experiencing pointing as a process - more precisely, a process of determinate negation and sublation.

It does not take much to bring about this result. In the subject's very act of pointing, the Now 'has already ceased to be.' 'Now!' - there it goes, it has just slipped through my fingers.

To be sure, Nows keep sprouting up like daisies, but the Now I pointed to, the Now I thought I could stick with in the immediate of my subject-object module, is gone, gone precisely because I pointed to it!

I lose what I am pointing to in the act of pointing to it. Just when the Now is pointed to, it is not. The Now that is pointed to by sense-certainty in its pure intuiting is not a being at all but a has-been, or rather a having-been. It is consequently not the being as presence sense-certainty intended.

Pointing is not the immediate act I thought it was. It is rather a movement or process with three phases or moments. These moments (which bear a logical rather than a temporal sense) are Hegel's first spelling out of determinate negation and sublation or Aufhebung.

Throughout this dense passage (106-107), Hegel uses forms of the verb aufheben, whose meaning we discussed in Chapter 2. If the reader succeeds in grasping this dialectic of pointing, he will then grasp the paradigm for all the dialectical movement in the Phenomenology.

In the first logical moment, I point out the Now as the truth. Realizing that it has vanished in the act of pointing to it, I sublate this truth in the sense of canceling it. This is the first negation.

Then I posit another truth: that the first Now has been (which I have just experienced), something that has been sublated. But a having-been cannot be the truth, the truth must be.

And so, in the third moment, I negate the first negation (since what has been is not) and return to the first assertion: that the Now is.

This logical movement is something that we see. But logic is not a 'method' that we have 'applied' to the Now. It is the truth of the Now, which fully manifests itself in language.

The last, positive phase of the dialectic of the Now captures what is true to the experience of pointing: the Now cannot disappear without immediately reappearing as another Now, without transcending itself to beget a continuum of Nows. I cannot 'live' exclusively in my subject-object module. The truth that is revealed here is that time both is and is experienced as an evanescence that abides.

In spite of what sense-certainty claims, time is process and mediation. It is the dialectical identity of appearing and disappearing.

The Now that is in the third moment of the dialectic of pointing is a newly constituted, expanded Now, a Now that has stepped outside of itself in order to be related to itself. It is a universal Now, a Now of Nows, that accommodates all the Nows that appear and disappear within it.

This new, genuine Now is a Day-of-hours, an Hour-of-minutes, a Minute-of-seconds. In sum, the experience of pointing reveals that the Now, in truth, is a universal. Needless to say, this truth contradicts the certainty that the Now is an immediate radical particular - a This.

Something similar happens when I try to point to an immediate Here. Point to the figure below with your mind's eye and let it be your Here:


What exactly is the Here you are attending to? Can you point to the letter without sensing any motion at all, any navigation within or around the Here, any straying into the Forbidden Zone of the not-Here?

The figure to which I point is a mix of interrelated Heres. The crossbar of the H is a Here, and so is each vertical post. But the point at which the crossbar meets the left vertical post is also a Here, as is the point where it meets the right post. Also, the top of the left post is a Here, as is the bottom. Even 'top' is ambiguous and is composed of Heres, as is 'bottom.' This process can be repeated indefinitely for any part of the letter, no matter how small.

I cannot isolate an atomic Here. There is no Here I can point to that is not a Here of Heres: a set of relations like 'to the left' or 'above' or 'between.'

But if this is true, then the Here is not immediate. And it shows itself to be non-immediate in my act of trying to point to it as immediate.

Pointing is the motion by which I navigate through a Here of Heres. As I point to what I mean to be an atomic, immediate Here, I really supplant that Here, cancel it, jump outside it into another Here, and then jump back inside a Here, which, like the Now, has expanded and become a universal.

I cannot determine the position of a Here without relating it to other Heres. In the very moment that pointing becomes relating, otherness and mediation enter the picture and the immediacy I meant is gone.

Sense-certainty posited the immediate Here-and-Now as absolute truth. In the act of pointing, it generated the universal Here-and-Now. In one sense, something new comes on the scene: the Here of Heres and the Now of Nows.

But in another sense, the dialectic has uncovered the universality that was present all along. Logically, it takes us back as well as moves us foward. It discloses the universal as something pre-posited, that is, logically prior to what I posited.

We will see this same circular, back-bending motion throughout the Phenomenology. Absolute knowing, the culminating stage of the whole journey of consciousness, will also be the true arche or beginning of all the stages that came before it.

As the whole of all shapes, absolute knowing is alone the shape that has no logical presupposition: it does not pre-posit anything but knows the whole truth of its content.

This completes the dialectical suffering of sense-certainty. The claim of sense-certainty has been thoroughly thought through, mediated, and just as thoroughly refuted - not by us, but by sense-certainty itself in its attempt to transform its certainty into truth through the experiential process.

In the wake of sense-certainty, Hegel tells us that the dialectic of sense-certainty is the history of its experience, and moreover, that sense-certainty is its history.

He adds that natural consciousness, too, the ordinary empirical consciousness of the individual, keeps experiencing the dialectic we just went through. But it remains entrenched in its familiar certitude, unable to store the result of its experience as a determinate negation.

Later in his account, Hegel will call the journey of consciousness a 'forgotten path.' At each stage, consciousness forgets what it has learned and posits another immediate truth.

Only at the very end, with absolute knowing, does the self experience what Hegel calls recollection. At that end-point, now so far away, consciousness preserves rather than flees the process that is consciousness itself. Only then does it grasp its truth as its history.

Paragraphs 109-110 - The Pretensions of Sense-Certainty

Hegel ends the chapter with an attack on the self-styled skeptics. These skeptics pander to natural consciousness by affirming that the truth of sense data is a universal experience. As the preceding dialectic has shown, universal experience is, on the contrary, experience of the universal.

Sense-certainty is necessary to the self-knowing of spirit. But this logical necessity does not stop Hegel from attacking the sense-data theorists, who would have us believe that sense-certainty is self-evidently true.

The attack on skeptics like Hume leads to the praise of animals, who seem to have an uncanny intimation of divine truth. The skeptics, Hegel says, should go back to the ancient mysteries of Bread and Wine (Ceres and Bacchus), the wisdom from which even the animals are not excluded.

Animals know the truth about sensuous particulars. They know that these sensuous givens exist to be given up to eating and drinking. They despair of the reality of such things and, 'completely assured of their nothingness,' gobble them up. The animals, in other words, can teach Hume a thing or two about what it really means to be a skeptic.

In their practical skepticism, the animals foreshadow the 'turn' in the Phenomenology from consciousness to self-consciousness. This is the moment when consciousness discovers that the world exists for the sake of the self and its desire.

Hegel ends, fittingly, with an ode to language. The skeptics fail to learn from language. They mean to get at the radical particular in the belief that this is real and concrete, and that language is abstract. But their speech betrays them, they cannot help but utter the universal.

As a sense-data advocate, I could try to cling to the particular by refusing to write it down or to express what I mean in language, but there would still be the dialectic of non-verbal pointing, the experience in which the particular becomes a universal through self-negation.

Not only that, but if I remained locked within my non-verbal certitude, I would be unable to make a claim to truth, both to myself and to another.

Sense-certainty, as a finite shape of consciousness, keeps going around in its dialectic like a gerbil in its wheel. It suffers negation but does not grasp its experience as a determinate negation, an advance.

We see what sense-certainty does not, that a new concept and a new object has arisen.

The new concept or mode of knowing - perception - lets universality be within the realm of the sensed. It lets Thises be things with universal properties. Playing on the German word for perception [Wahrnehmung], Hegel tells us that consciousness will now take the This [nehme] in a way that is true [wahr].

Here, at the end of the first stage of experience, Hegel speaks in the first person. He takes on the role of the I that experiences the dialectic of pointing and sees the determinate negation it contains. This is also the I of the reader, who, with Hegel, experiences the transition to perception from within sense-certainty.

Sense-certainty tried, and failed, to make the temporal moment or Now absolute. But that moment grew beyond itself into a larger Now that preserved what was negated and lifted it up.

So too, sense-certainty, as a shape of consciousness essential to absolute knowing, for us grows beyond itself and is preserved as a logical, eternal moment within the greater whole. The remainder of the Phenomenology pays tribute to this humble beginning, this stingy claim to know that refutes to do any work of mediation.

The whole journey yet to come will be the continued mediation of sense-certainty and its immediate Here-and-Now.

Chapter IV: Perception, or, the Crisis of Thinghood

The uninitiated are those who think nothing else is, other than what they are able to grasp tightly in both hands, and who will not accept that actions and processes and anything invisible has a share in being.
Plato, Theatetus (155E)

Perception is both an advance and a new beginning. It is an advance because it emerged necessarily from the previous stage. Perception takes the universal that was generated by sense-certainty and embraces it as its object. It is a new beginning because it takes this object not as the result of mediation but immediately.

For perception [Wahrnehmung], universality is not a thought or a process but a property of the thing, something true [wahr] that one simply 'takes' [nimmt] in the act of perceiving.

Perception is higher than sense-certainty because its object is more logically complex. But as a mode of knowing, it is just as static, just as resistant to mediation.

It is not hard to see the appeal of this world of knowing. Unlike sense-certainty, perception lets things as things be. It lets them be manifold unities that gather properties to themselves like different kinds of flowers assembled in a vase.

The world is teeming with things, Dinge, not just high organic beings like the individual horse, ox, or man, but also this lowly individual bit of salt or that individual piece of wood, all testimonies to reality as the realm of res, or things.

In addition to being friendly to ordinary experience, perception, unlike sense-certainty, is friendly to language. It lets me say things like, 'this bit of salt is white, cubical, and sharp-tasting.'

Perception, we must note, makes assumptions about reality that extend beyond sensuous things. There is a perceptual attitude that colors our thinking.

When philosophers discourse about the soul and try to determine whether it is simple or complex, mortal or immortal, or when theologians study God as a person with various attributes, they are treating soul and God as a thing with peroperties.

What would it take to de-stabilize this familiar world of knowing, to bring death into the seemingly safe garden of things and their properties?

Perception, like sense-certainty, is not a faculty but a claim to know.

It does not say, 'There are things in the world, and I experience them as stable units,' but rather, 'This thing that I experience as a stable sensuous unit is, all by itself, absolute truth.'

Absolute truth here means that things, taken individually, are ultimate, non-derivative, and irrefutable. They are not part of some greater truth but the truth itself. The thing, for perception, is radically independent, a world unto itself.

The law of perception is thus self-identity, 'a thing is the same as itself,' A=A.

In the last chapter I noticed some important omissions from sense-certainty's world of knowing. Perception, in spite of its greater wealth, is similarly ungenerous. It excludes cause and effect, motion, and a community or interaction of things.

The radical individuality and independence of things recalls the radical human individuality posited in the social-political theories of Hobbes and Locke, for whom community is artificial and contractual.

This view of the individual as real and the community as abstract constitutes modern liberalism. If sense-certainty is a cognitive romantic that wants to live in the moment, then perception, it seems, is an ontic liberal.

In doing geometric demonstrations like the ones we find in Euclid, we are wise to keep in view the truth we seek to prove. This truth is stated in the enunciation that appears at the head of each proposition.

In the Phenomenology, we do well to follow a similar procedure, we should, as Solon tells Croesus in Herodotus, 'look to the end.' Formally, the end of every chapter (with exceptions we will meet later) is the same: the death of one cognitive shape and the birth of another. A claim to know is refuted, and a new one comes on the scene.

With respect to each claim we must ask, what would it take to generate a contridiction in it? If we can answer this question, then we know what is essential to the claim itself and also have a sense for where the dialectic is faded to go. This looking to the end guides our reading of Hegel's book. It also helps keep up our spirits when we feel lost in Hegel's labyrinth and encounter terms, sentences, and parts of the argument we do not understand.

Following this advice, we can make a few predictions. Essential to perception is the logical stability of the thing with many properties: this one thing all by itself. The thing must 'hold up' in speech, be free of contradiction.

But the thing is a unity of opposites: a One, and because of its properties, also a Many. Perception must make sure that these opposed aspects of the thing do not contradict each other. The thing must be One in one sense and Many in another.

If these two senses themselves became identical - if the thing was a One insofar as it was Many, and Many insofar as it was One - then the thing with many properties, the presumed absolute of perception, would be refuted.

Likewise, the thing with its many properties, this thing, must be utterly independent of other things and essentially self-related. It must be a fortress of self-containment. If this self-relating turned into a relation to other things, then the walls of the fortress would become porous and thinghood would fall.

The negative conclusions listed here all arise in the course of perception's effort to prove itself. This world of knowing will collapse, and a new object and mode of knowing will arise, as consciousness moves from sense to thought.

This new object that emerges from the contradiction of the One and the Many will be force [Kraft]. And the new mode of knowing will be what Hegel calls understanding [Verstand].

Paragraphs 111-117: The Secret Life of the Thing

The principle of perception (unlike that of sense-certainty) is universality. And its essential moment of the subject-object opposition is the object perceived.