The Phenomenology of Mind, by G. W. F. Hegel

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Observation of Self-Consciousness in its Pure
Form and in its Relation to External Reality
— Logical and Psychological Laws

Translator’s comments: Observation can be directed upon the self-conscious process of mind in two ways: it may consider the mind’s thinking relation to reality, and it may consider the mind’s active or biotic relation to reality. The result of observation here, as in the foregoing cases, finds expression in a number of laws, which it “frames”. The “laws” in the first case are “laws of thought” or connected logical laws: in the latter case we have laws of psychic events, “psychological” laws.

The analysis in this section shows the inadequacy of observation as such to deal with its material in both cases. It fails in the first case because (1) “laws of thought” have no meaning apart from the reality with which thought is necessarily concerned; laws of thought are laws of “thinking”, and thinking is both form and content: (2) observation gives each law an absolute being of its own, as if it were detached from the unity of self-consciousness, whereas this unity is the fundamental principle of each and al the laws, which only exist in and by the single process of that unity. Hence a type of logic confined to “observing” laws of thought is necessarily untrue. Observation again fails in the second case because it is impossible to separate mind from its total environment. Observational or empirical psychology therefore is incapable of giving an adequate account of mind the constitution of the environment enters into and in part determines the constitution of the psychic events, and the latter cannot be explained even as events without interpreting the former at the same time.

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Observation of Self-Consciousness in its Pure
Form and in its Relation to External Reality
— Logical and Psychological Laws

Observation of nature finds the notion realized in inorganic nature, laws, whose moments are things which at the same time are in the position of abstractions. But this notion is not a simplicity reflected into self. The life of organic nature, on the other hand, is only this self-reflected simplicity. The opposition within itself, in the sense of the opposition of universal and individual, does not make its appearance in the essential nature of this life itself with one factor apart from the other. Its essential nature is not the genus, self-sundered and self-moved in its undifferentiated element, and remaining at the same time for itself undifferentiated in its opposition. Observation finds this free notion, whose universality has just as absolutely within it developed individuality, only in the notion which itself exists as notion, i.e. in self-consciousness.

When observation now turns in upon itself and directs itself on the notion which is real qua free notion, it finds, to begin with, the Laws of Thought. This kind of individuality, which thought is in itself, is the abstract movement of the negative, a movement entirely introverted into simplicity; and the laws are outside reality.

To say “they have no reality” means in general nothing else than that they are without any truth. And in fact they do not claim to be entire truth, but still formal truth. But what is purely formal without reality is an ens intellectus, or empty abstraction without the internal diremption which would be nothing else but the content.

On the other hand, however, since they are laws of pure thought, while the latter is the inherently universal, and thus a kind of knowledge, which immediately contains being and therein all reality, these laws are absolute notions, and axe in one and the same sense the essential principles of form as well as of things. Since self-directing, self-moving universality is the simple notion in a state of diremption, this notion has in this manner a content in itself, and one which is all content except sensuous, not a being of sense. It is a content, which is neither in contradiction with the form nor at all separated from it; rather it is essentially the form itself; for the latter is nothing but the universal dividing itself into its pure moments.

In the way in which this form or content, however, comes before observation qua observation, it gets the character of a content that is found, given, i.e. one which merely is. It becomes a passively existing basis of relations, a multitude of detached necessities, which as a definitely fixed content are to have truth just as they stand with their specific characteristic, and thus, in point of fact, are withdrawn from the form.

This absolute truth of fixed characteristics, or of a plurality of different laws, contradicts, however, the unity of self-consciousness, contradicts the unity of thought and form in general. What is declared to be a fixed and inherently constant law can be merely a moment of the self-referring, self-reflecting unity, can come on the scene merely as a vanishing element. When extricated, however, by the process of considering them, from the movement imposing this continuous connexion, and when set out individually and separately, it is not content that they lack, for they have a specific content; they lack rather form, which is their essential nature. In point of fact it is not for the reason that they are to be merely formal and are not to have any content, that these laws are not the truth of thought; it is rather for the opposite reason. It is because in their specificity, i.e. just as a content with the form removed, they want to pass for something absolute. In their true nature, as vanishing moments in the unity of thought, they would have to be taken as knowledge or as thinking process, but not as laws of knowledge. Observing, however, neither is nor knows that knowledge itself; observation converts its nature into the shape of an objective being, i.e. apprehends its negative character merely as laws of being.

It is sufficient for our purpose here to have indicated the invalidity of the so-called laws of thought from the consideration of the general nature of the case. It falls to speculative philosophy to go more intimately and fully into the matter, and there they show themselves to be what in truth they are, single vanishing moments, whose truth is simply the whole of the think process, knowledge itself.

This negative unity of thought exists for its own sake, or rather it is just being for itself and on its own account, the principle of individuality; and its reality consists in exercising a function, it is an active consciousness. Consequently the mental attitude of observation will by the nature of the case be led on towards this as being the reality of those laws of thought. Since this connexion is not a fact for observation, the latter supposes that thought with its laws remains standing separately on one side, and that, on the other side, it obtains another objective being in what is now the object observed, viz. that acting consciousness, which exists for itself in such a way as to cancel otherness and find its reality in this direct awareness of itself as the negative.

In the active practical reality of consciousness, observation thus finds opened up before it a new field. Psychology contains the collection of laws in virtue of which the mind takes up different attitudes towards the different forms of its reality given and presented to it in a condition of otherness. The mind adopts these various attitudes partly with a view to receiving these modes of its reality into itself, and conforming to the habits, customs, and ways of thinking it thus comes across, as being that wherein mind is reality and as such object to itself; partly with a view to knowing its own spontaneous activity in opposition to them, to follow the bent of its own inclinations, affections, and emotions, and carry off thence what is merely of particular and special moment for itself, and thus make what is objective conform to itself. In the former it behaves negatively towards itself as single and individual mind, in the latter negatively towards itself as the universal being.

In the former aspect independence [or self-dependence] gives what is met with merely the form of conscious individuality in general, and as regards the content remains within the general reality given; in the second aspect, however, it gives the reality at least a certain special modification, which does not contradict its essential content, or even a modification by which the individual qua particular reality and peculiar content sets itself against the general reality. This opposition becomes a form of wrongdoing when the individual cancels that reality in a merely particular manner, or when it does so in a manner that is general and thus for all, when it puts another world, another right, law, and custom in place of those already there.

Observational psychology, which in the first instance states what observation finds regarding the general forms brought to its notice in the active consciousness, discovers all sorts of faculties, inclinations, and passions; and since, while narrating what this collection contains, the remembrance of the unity of self-consciousness is not to be suppressed, observational psychology is bound to get the length at least of wonderment that such a lot and such a miscellany of things can happen to be somehow alongside one another in the mind as in a kind of bag, more especially when they are seen to be not lifeless inert things, but restless active processes.

In telling over these various faculties observation keeps to the universal aspect: the unity of these multifarious capacities is the opposite aspect to this universality, is the actual concrete individuality.

To take up again thus the different concrete individualities, and to describe how one man has more inclination for this the other for that, how one has more intelligence than the other — all this is, however, something much more uninteresting than even to reckon up the species of insects, mosses, and so on. For these latter give observation the right to take them thus individually and disconnectedly (begrifflos), because they belong essentially to the sphere of fortuitous detailed particulars. To take conscious individuality on the other hand, as a particular phenomenal entity, and treat it in so wooden a fashion, is self-contradictory, because the essential nature of individuality lies in the universal element of mind. Since, however, the process of apprehending it causes it at the same time to pass into the form of universality, to apprehend it is to find its law, and seems in this way to have a rational purpose in view, and a necessary function to fulfil.

The moments constituting the content of the law are on the one hand individuality itself, on the other its universal inorganic nature, viz. the given circumstances, situation, habits, customs, religion, and so forth; from these the determinate individuality is to be understood and comprehended. They contain something specific, determinate, as well as universal, and are at the same time something lying at hand, which furnishes material for observation and on the other side expresses itself in the form of individuality.

The law of this relation of the two sides has now to contain and express the sort of effect and influence these determinate circumstances exert on individuality. This individuality, however just consists both in being the universal, and hence in passively and directly assimilating and blending with the given universals, the customs, habits, etc., thus becoming conformed to them, as also in taking up an attitude of opposition towards them and thus transforming and transmuting them; and again in behaving towards them in its individual character with complete indifference, neither allowing them to exert an influence over it, nor setting itself actively against them. On that account what is to have an influence on individuality, and what sort of influence it is to have — which, properly speaking, mean the same thin-depend entirely on individuality itself: to say that by such and such an influence this individuality has become this specifically determinate individuality means nothing else than saying it has been this all along. Circumstances, situation, customs, and so on, which show themselves on one side as something given, and on the other as within this specific individuality, reveal merely indeterminate nature of individuality, which is not the point under consideration. If these circumstances, style of thought, customs, the whole state of the world, in short, had not been, then assuredly the individual would not have been what he is; for all the elements that find a place in this “ state of the world “ constitute this universal substance.

By the way, however, in which the state of the world has affected in particular any given individual — and it is such an individual that has to be comprehended — it must itself have assumed a particular shape on its own account, and have operated upon the individual in the specific character which it assumed. Only so could it have made the individual the specific particular individual he is. If the external element is so constituted in and for itself as it appears in individuality, the latter would be comprehended from the nature of the former. We should have a double gallery of pictures, one of which would be the reflexion of the other: the one the gallery of external circumstance completely encompassing, circumscribing, and determining the individual, the other the same gallery translated into the form in which those circumstances are in the conscious individual: the former the spherical surface, the latter the centre reflectively representing that surface within it.

But the spherical surface, the world for the individual, carries on the face of it this double meaning: it is in and for itself the actual world and situation, and it is the world of the individual. It is the world of the individual either in so far as this individual was merely fused and blended with it, had let that world, just as it is, pass into its own nature, and had taken up towards it merely the attitude of a formal consciousness; or, on the other hand, it is the world of the individual in the sense in which the given has been transformed and transmuted by that individual.

Since reality is capable of having this twofold meaning on account of this freedom of the individual, the world of the individual is only to be understood from the individual himself; and the influence of reality upon the individual, a reality which is represented as having a being all its own (an und für sich), receives through this individual absolutely the opposite significance — the individual either lets the stream of reality flowing in upon it have its way, or breaks off and diverts the current of its influence. In consequence of this, however, “ psychological necessity” becomes an empty phrase, so empty that there is the absolute possibility that what is said to have this influence could equally well not have had it.

Herewith drops out of account that existence which was to be something all by itself, and was meant to constitute one aspect, and that the universal aspect, of a law. Individuality is what its world, in the sense of its own world, is. Individuality itself is the cycle of its own action, in which it has presented and established itself as reality, and is simply and solely a unity of what is given and what is constructed — a unity aspects do not fall apart, as in the idea of psychological law, into a world given per se and an individuality existing for itself. Or if those aspects are thus considered each by itself, there is no necessity to be found between them, and no law of their relation to one another.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38